Online LIVE reading of Summer North Coming, Tuesday July 21st, 7:00 pm

Join me online for a LIVE reading of my picture book, published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside, on Tuesday July 21st, 7:00 pm (Mountain Time), with the Writers’ Guild of Alberta.

Check back here for a link to the event: dorothybentley.net – click on “News & Events”

Gather children around for this lively romp through the seasonal activities of siblings who live in Alberta!

Q & A to follow.

Fishing~ Gardner Lake & Georgia Straight

As we approach the Alberta Free Family Fishing weekend, I can’t help but think back on several great family fishing trips. Some stand out because of the stunning location, others because of the fish that were caught.

My first serious fishing trip came when I travelled to Gardner Lake, a fly-in lake in Alberta. Also on the trip was my new (at the time– I’m still married to the same guy) husband and three of his friends. Okay, so they planned the trip and I invited myself. The tiny plane with floats landed on the pristine lake and we were taxied along to a dock where we disembarked and unloaded our gear. We followed the path to a rough cabin with– one room. It held three sets of bunk-beds, a tiny kitchen along one wall with a window looking out over the lake, with a propane cooker, wood stove, old chrome and formica table and chairs, and no running water. Oh, and the “bathroom” was out back in it’s own little house, otherwise known as an “outhouse.” We all slept in our clothes and there were no showers that weekend, although I took a dip in the lake. I have never heard snoring like that before or since, and I vowed I would leave the men’s trips to them in future, and my husband I would have our own family fishing trips.

The first thing one of the guys did was to set-up a contest. Each day, the one who caught the largest fish would win a prize. Dan had brought little prizes with him, including lures and other outdoor/fishing miscellany. I’d brought along my SLR camera, so while I was preoccupied snapping stunning white pelicans (in northern Alberta?), my husband fished in our boat while the others were also fishing in aluminum boats at other spots on the lake.

After I grew tired of taking photos, I dangled my line in the water. There were a few schools of White Fish around, so we would pull anchor and move; when we catch that type of fish, we did not seem to catch Walleye, which was our goal. White Fish are very boney and the Indigenous people fed them to their dog teams rather than eat them. Once we found a good spot with some variation in the bottom topography, we began to get bites. One of the guys, Brian, was extremely competitive. He determinedly fished all day. Every now and again, my husband and I could hear a shout from another boat some distance away as someone pulled-in a nice one. Towards the end of the day, when we were hungry, not when the sun went down since in the north the sun barely goes down in the summer, we were about to call it quits when I felt a strong tug on my line. I thought I had snagged bottom. Then the “bottom” began to move.

I was careful to keep the tip of my rod up and the line taut. I reeled in slow and steady. As it neared the boat, the Walleye thrashed and shook its head, making me tense-up, thinking I might lose it. I kept the pressure on and finally had it close enough to the boat so my husband could scoop the net under it and pull it safely into the boat. We pulled anchor and headed for shore.

Once on the dock, we did the weigh-in of the day’s catch. Brian was beaming as he had caught a Walleye that looked like the largest of them all. His weighed in at four and half pounds. He was already bragging and strutting around with his chest puffed out. My fish was weighed last.

It was the largest fish I had ever caught. It had barbed fins and bulging eyes. Since I was quite new to fishing, I was not into holding them up for the camera. I let my husband do that. He scooped the scale-hook through its gills and lifted it up. The needle slid back and forth for a few seconds until it settled on five pounds. “Dee is the winner!” Dan called out, using my nick-name. I beamed, but feeling a twinge of pity for Brian who had wanted to win so badly, I patted his back and said, “It’s okay, Brian. Mine is only half a pound more.”

All the guys laughed uproariously. Brian had been beaten by someone new to fishing.

 

Since that trip, my man and I have fished in many places in Alberta as well as British Columbia. We spent many hours fishing on Canada’s West Coast, particularly on the Georgia Straight: fly fishing on the Little Qualicum River, and down-rigger fishing out between the little islands, such as Gabriola and Lasquitti. We were surprised by sudden gales a couple of times with ocean swells as tall as a two-story house, and I kissed the ground when we returned to shore, but it won’t stop me from going out again.

My father-in-law, who raised my husband to be a fisherman, always had one sort of boat or other. We caught an incredible variety of sea-life from his boat: ling-cod, blue-backs (young salmon), larger Coho and Springs, and several sharks which he snagged with his gaff-hook. I miss those early-morning trips, when we would set-up the down-riggers with our lines clipped on, put them in the rod-holders and then I’d catch a few winks until the bell on the end of a line jingled. I’d start up and grab my rod and reel-in like a son-of-a-bride because the line was down fifty or eighty feet. Most often there was nothing on, but Tom had a fish-finder so we tried to find the schools of salmon and follow them around the Straight. When the bite was on, we really cleaned-up. Tom had a routine of filling his quota and then canning fish in a giant pressure-cooker filled with glass jars. Every year, he would give us cases of canned salmon. As for the blue-backs, they were best enjoyed straight on the BBQ, including their crisped-up skin.

I really miss those fishing trips, all the canned salmon, and Tom–but mostly I just miss my father-in-law, Tom. He was a great dad. We enjoyed many great outings fishing as a family.

Phantom Thread, written & directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Costume Designer: Mark Bridges, Musical Score composed by Jonny Greenwood

Phantom Thread (2017) is a lavish period film set in 1950’s London. The main characters are Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays a haute couture designer, Lesley Manville, who plays his sister, and Vicky Krieps, as a waitress who becomes his lover whom he eventually marries. This film is brilliantly executed from the stunning scenes, sparse but intense dialogue, complex characterizations of the principals, and the storytelling which includes a surprise.

Female viewers should be put-off by the narcissistic and misogynistic designer, Reynold Woodcock, who (it is implied), preys upon a string of young women he uses for muses, models, and lovers, but he unsuspectingly meets someone different in the simple but charming Alma Elson, a foreigner. They soon fall in love and she moves into his grand house in London where Reynold’s sister Cyril runs matters. Cyril is the only one able to stand up to Reynolds’ spoiled child repertoire. He seems only able to love his dead mother whose image, wearing a wedding dress, haunts him. When Alma is at risk of becoming another cast-off of Reynold, she tries to lure him back with a surprise dinner, which is a disaster. When she is loving and kind, he is mean and hurtful. The fact that Alma persists in her loyalty to an abusive person reveals her own troubling character.

Eventually, Alma decides to injure Reynold with poisonous mushrooms. This leaves him ill and at her mercy as she nurses him, just as his mother would. While ill, Reynold sees his mother and once he is recovered, he proposes to Alma.

This film begins as a strange love story, but soon turns into a psychological thriller with a sinister edge. While rated R for mature themes, it may be worth watching for those who enjoy a well-made film.

 

Educated, by Tara Westover

Tara Westover has written a scathing memoir about her experience as a “home schooled” kid. The truth of it is, however, that her parents, especially her father, did everything he could to prevent her from becoming educated. She was not allowed to read anything except the Bible. If she wanted to read a math textbook, she had to hide with it or secretly study elsewhere. It was her brother, an older escapee, who encouraged her to covertly study for the entrance exam to a college which accepted home schooled kids. If it was not for him, she may very well have ended up dead, or at the least, physically and emotionally scarred or brain-damaged like one of her brothers who was continually injured, oftentimes working alongside their father in unsafe work conditions.

Memoir is an artful retelling of one’s life, with carefully selected scenes strung together to produce a narrative arc, usually on a particular theme of interest, climaxing with a pivotal moment in one’s life. While Westover’s tale does chronicle her finally leaving her abusive and manipulative home, before she does, she continues to go back, and go back, and go back, even when her life is in danger. It was upsetting as a reader; I cannot image how difficult it was to live through it. Sadly, unlike most memoirs which comfortably resolve, this one leaves the reader feeling unsettled. There is a major family rift and I was left wondering if Westover had waited long enough to tell her story; where is the redemption? Where is the reconciliation and forgiveness? Sadly, this convention of memoir is not possible in some families. She was not able to save her family, so she saves herself.

Well worth the read.

Little Women, directed by Greta Gurwig

The latest version of Little Women hit the big screen on Christmas Day 2019. I’d read the book most recently over a decade ago, and watched several other film versions. How does this one rate?

Screen Shot 2019-12-27 at 8.51.10 PM.png

This edition is not only based on the Louisa May Alcott’s novel about the March family, but also on Alcott’s journals; therefore there are a few interesting additions.

Stylistically, the movie has lush deep tones in indoor frames much like the period paintings Gurwig studied. The outdoor scenes are satisfying with period details as well as fresh and delightfully lingering which accounts for the length at 2 hours 15 minutes.

The movie is set in Orchard House and surrounding area, the actual Alcott home (now museum) in Concord, Massachusetts, across the lane from Laurie’s grand mansion, presided over by his grandfather, (Chris Cooper). Father is off to the Civil War, and Marmie (played by Laura Dern) sympathizes with the poor of the town and leads her girls to give away their sparse foodstuffs and care for the sick. Jo (played by Saoirse Ronan), is wilder in this version than the others, least likely to succumb to matrimony; her sisters not so much. There are subtle religious overtones as the family prays true to the original book, but more stark are the overt feminist comments not present in the original novel or the previous films, apparently borrowed from a speech in Alcott’s novel Rose in Bloom and elsewhere in Alcott’s later writings, perhaps indicative of Alcott’s growing outspokenness. While women’s social standing is a predicament of the time, the “little women” being so self-aware is doubtful. It smacks of didacticism, aimed at educating the young who may know nothing of women’s former plight and the true work of feminism to win suffrage, property, and parentage rights. Again, not true to the novel, but in retrospect it is a truthful addition in light of Alcott’s values.

The character of Laurie (Chalamet) is rendered in a believable light, immature and a brother-match to Jo, while more suitable as husband for the younger more adoring Amy. His growing love for Jo and her refusal is put forth as the main story-line, but kudos to the director, Gurwig, for also giving us glimpses of Meg’s (Watson) romance with Laurie’s tutor John Brooke (Norton), poignant scenes during Beth’s (Scanlen) illness, and more of Amy (Pugh) in Paris with Aunt March played spectacularly by none other than Meryl Streep. Unfortunately, the role of Marmie March (Dern) was underwhelming, as was that of Father (Odenkirk). However, the comic banter and rich poetic dialogue provides hints of Thoreau’s Walden and other transcendental writers and thinkers of the time. In fact, I quite expected actual appearances by the Alcott’s neighbours, but they appeared only in the script.

Jo’s friendship and ensuing romance with Friedrich (Louis Garrel) is a good fit as he is closer in age to Jo than the version with Wynona Rider, therefore more believable, somewhat reminiscent of the updating of Pride and Prejudice with younger protagonists. More of their relationship would have been interesting. However, the final scene, as sweet as it is, does not at all seem true to the story as it doesn’t lead well into the following novel Jo’s Boys where Friedrich and Jo have a school for boys. Instead, it adhere’s to the comedic form for a gathering of community.

Another stylistic update was the switching back and forth repeatedly in time between the girls’ childhood and their adult lives, unlike the chronological treatment in the Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version with Wynona Rider and Susan Sarandon. I personally loved this treatment, but my movie-friend who hadn’t read the book or viewed previous versions was confused.

I recommend reading Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women first then watching the 1994 Armstrong version before seeing this one in order to truly appreciate the vision which Gurwig brought to screen.

 

Recommended for all ages.

 

A Secret Envy of the Unsaved, Rebecca Fredrickson

Fredrickson

 

Rebecca Frederickson’s poetry in Secret Envy of the Unsaved is raw and poignant, beautiful and tragic. As another reviewer (from Amazon) said, she writes about the “lives and personalities of residents of a small, close-knit northern community in BC. It’s a book that begs to be read in one sitting but left handy for re -reading.”

Her writing adds depth to common experiences:

“… the unsaved,

who could say anything

without their hearts pounding

wild and chaotic inside them.”

 

Fredrickson’s work is unpretentious and fresh, despite being published in 2002.

Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 9.25.33 PM
A Canadian Author

Recommended for 14+

DB

Out on the Drink, by Bill Bunn

 

out on the drink

This is Bill Bunn’s latest YA novel. At times, the best way to get an idea about a book is to compare it to others which are better known. In this case, Out on the Drink reminds me of Hatchett, by Gary Paulsen. Both are survival tales with engrossing minute details of a marooned boy trying to stay alive.

Both are well written, although I would say that Hatchett has a choppier feel as it comes from the narration of a less-literate teen-aged boy; Bunn’s protagonist, although similar in age, narrates at a slightly higher literacy level. As a result, there is better narrative flow.

Another novel that comes to mind when reading this novel is The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson; both are “problem” novels. In Hopkin’s novel, the protagonist is in foster care; in Bunn’s novel, Sean is a candidate for foster care due to his family problems. Here is the blurb about Out on the Drink from the Chapter’s site:

Sean Bulger is a 16-year-old alcoholic from Newfoundland. His life revolves around avoiding his abusive stepfather and sneaking booze wherever and whenever he can. One of his party crashes goes wrong when a group of fellow teens dare him to check out a condemned Russian cruise ship.

Stone drunk and obsessed with the promise of more alcohol, Sean scrambles aboard the ship, and  blacks out when the boat is towed from harbour–and soon he’s adrift in a ruined ship, looking for fresh water, food, navigational tools, or anything that will help him survive.

This book is based on an actual ship off the east coast of Canada.

Bill Bunn is one of those writers that someone will discover and then have to read all their back novels. His work is consistently good and smacks of all that is right and wrong with boyhood, without getting into the clumsy “coming of age” stuff.

Whenever possible, Canadian schools should look to replace assigned novels with excellent novels written by Canadian authors, whether they are published in Canada or elsewhere.

Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 9.25.33 PM
A Canadian Author

YA age 11+

Happy Reading!

DB

Alice Hoffman, The World That We Knew

I often write about “old” or at least “older” books, but I just read one that is still fairly hot off the press. It’s Alice Hoffman’s The World That We Knew, released in 2019.

I chose this book because I like some historical and period fiction, as well as war-time stories. The appeal of war-time stories is that this is recent history and should be studied even though it is particularly chilling. The lows are dramatic, gut-wrenching, and at times horrific; the highs may be the simple beauty of something in nature or as triumphant as escaping arrest.

From the front sleeve:

In Berlin in 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive.                                  At the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime …

I didn’t look any further, so after I brought the book home and began to read to discover  supernatural/fantastical elements, I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t want to give it away, but a few of the characters see the Angel of Death, other angels, demons, and someone creates a golem. It’s all organic to the story and the story remains anchored in real life war-time struggles, but the elements add tension and surprise.

It’s a well-told story which kept my interest throughout, and the denouement was particularly bittersweet and yet satisfying.

Recommended for 14+.

Happy reading!

DB

Our Familiar Hunger, by Laisha Rosnau

A couple of summers ago, I was able to attend a poetry writing workshop with UBC Okanagan professor Laisha Rosnau, through the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. She is winner of the

Dorothy Livesay Award, and the BC Book Prize for Poetry.

We ate lunch, she did a short Q&A, and then we got down to it… pen on paper. She provided several writing prompts. Quite a group was squeezed around the tables at the pub, some struggling to see in the din. After scribbling for a while, we took turns reading short bits aloud. Afterwards, we broke into smaller groups to write and read more.

It was a satisfying afternoon. And best of all, I left with a copy of Laisha’s book, Our Familiar Hunger. (Nightwood Editions, 2018, Duncan, B.C.). I did not know it at the time, but the volume has proved to be stark, beautiful, and important.

The work traces through ads, farm dirt, blood, abuse, and the chronology of the migration of Ukrainian women to Canada, some legally, and some as trafficked slaves to service oil workers and farmers. Rosnau uses found texts, many sources, her own poetry previously published on the topic, and she mentions works which inspired her own. Having read volumes of poetry without a unifying theme, I can see why this one is an award winner. The theme unifies the work and creates a strong statement about a people.

Noise and light explode

and we think it’s the surging

between us, what we hold

under heavy skirts, but

it’s another spray of gunshot,

another soldier marching.

The history of wars and suffering bleeds through, as do softer moments:

We sleep in our own skin

and lie so close together

I can see how there is something

in the blue of your eyes,

as wide as sky pressed against

crops of wheat before lack

Often, people don’t like poetry because it seems obscure and impenetrable. Not this. Anyone can read, understand, and gain from this work.

Happy Reading.

DB

A Canadian Author

Writers’ Guild of Alberta

Memoir Writing Workshop~

Contact the Writers Guild of Alberta for access to this recorded webinar.

Click Here for The Writers Guild of Alberta website 

Screen Shot 2020-07-05 at 12.38.09 PM

The following workshops are cancelled or changed to webinars.

Workshops available include the following, as well as Write Nights, every Tuesday evening at the Wood Buffalo Regional Library, 6:30 to 8:30 pm.