Independent book review: Still Life with Memories series



By Uvi Poznansky

I have recently discovered the books of Uvi Poznansky, and she has written a remarkable series of books. Together, they tell one unified story, but from multiple points of view. The author does a remarkable job of capturing each individual voice

Still Life with Memories is about Lenny and Natasha Kaminsky, and about the way Natasha’s illness affects the whole family over a long time.

Natasha is a concert pianist and composer, hailed as a genius, and Lenny a soldier and intelligence operative.

They meet and fall in love, and Lenny says he cannot believe his luck when Natasha accepts his proposal of marriage. After the war, they return to the States and settle in Santa Monica, California. Natasha tries to re-start her music career, but shelves it when she becomes pregnant.

She becomes a piano teacher while Lenny pursues his own career, and Natasha’s enormous white piano fills up most of the living room in their small apartment.

But before many years pass, Lenny starts to notice something is wrong with Natasha. She has increasing memory lapses, which also affect her playing. Gradually, she loses the ability to play the piano. Lenny becomes despondent over the gaps Natasha’s memory and the damage it inflicts on their relationship. Lenny begins recording interviews with Natasha, then transcribing them in an effort to write a book about their life together.

Then he meets Anita, a teenaged girl who looks astonishingly like a young Natasha. Anita sets her sights on him as her best chance for a better life than her mother could give, and Lenny falls for her. Natasha, as fragile as she is, leaves Lenny, but seems to come back more than once.

 

But when Lenny makes Anita pregnant, the marriage is over. Not only does Natasha leave Lenny for good, so does their son, Ben, who is one year older than Anita.

The most remarkable thing about Poznansky’s series is that she tells it from different points of view.

Anita, who first appears in Lenny’s life as a teacher, is the narrator of book 1, My Own Voice. In Book 2, The White Piano, Ben, Lenny’s son is the PoV character. Lenny then takes over the narrating for the rest of the series, and we get to put the pieces together of Natasha’s real story.

Natasha is the most interesting character in the series. She’s a highly talented artist and, it turns out, was resourceful and effective during the war. The way that the author slowly reveals her story is sometimes anguishing, sometimes teasing, but always fascinating.

And the author perfectly captures each PoV character’s voice as she does this: the calculating other woman, the angry son, the guilt-ridden husband.

Still Life with Memories also reveals the ephemera quality of memory, through the differences in details that each character remembers about their interactions.

Battered by fate

Poznansky shows how each of us tries to be master of our own fate, but we are at the same time victims of an often cruel universe, dealing with things that we could never have seen coming. In book 4, Marriage Before Death, Lenny wonders how it is that some of the soldiers on the battlefield die, while other survive, and whether his time is up. And in other volumes, he tries to make a new life for himself and his family, but suffers setback after setback. When Anita finds him, he seems powerless to turn  her away, even though he tries.

Anita is more skilled or talented at surfing the maelstrom of life. She rises from an impoverished single-parent household, without much education, and catches a successful man—one who can give her things she could only dream of as a girl.

Ben recoils when he learns of his father’s affair with a girl younger than himself, drops out of school and leaves for Rome. When he returns, he also finds attracted drawn against his will to Anita, the woman who replaced his mother in many ways.

A couple of flaws

I find myself equally unable to resist Poznansky’s storytelling style. While she perfectly captures each character’s individuality, at the same time she writes in a style that seems at once fresh and old-fashioned. She has, I think, also captured a prewar literary voice that is refreshingly distinct from the mass-produced style you can find in today’s commercial bestsellers.

But the books are not quite perfect. There are a couple of flaws.

First, Lenny seems to be an incompetent intelligence operative. In Marriage Before Death, he wanders behind enemy lines with ease with little purpose or mission, and gets caught almost immediately.

Also, the timing seems a little off. If Lenny is in his 20s during the war—and it seems he is—then I’m having trouble working out the timing for when he meets Anita in Santa Monica. She describes Lenny as being in his 40s, so that would take us to the mid-sixties or at best early 70s. However, Anita plays a song from “the sixties” as if it were really old. Somehow, the timing just seems a little off there.

Overall

This is a wonderful series, a richly colourful portrait of the intersecting, overlapping and mutually supportive and destructive lives. It portrays the intricate relationships of family, of the ways we intentionally and unintentionally hurt the people we love, and how what we do to each other ultimately creates the people they, and we are. It’s not quite perfect, but then neither are we.

Well done, Ms. Poznansky

4*

Find Uvi Poznansky’s work on

Visit her website.

Enter to win a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet—free!



Filled with 45 fast-paced thrillers—but don’t delay.

 

There is no cost to enter this giveaway. If you win, you’ll get an e-reader, filled with all the books you see above. Runner up gets all 45 books.

One of the books you could win is one of mine: Torn Roots, the first Lei Crime Kindle World novella featuring FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm.

Torn Roots

Hawaii is known for volcanoes and sandy beaches. Beauty and danger reign.

After breaking a case of murdered poachers in Maui’s national park, Detective Pono Kaihale accepts a short-term position as Acting Lieutenant in Hana on the island’s rain-forest coast. He is looking forward to redirecting lost hikers and moderating mild lovers’ spats, and enjoying the natural beauty of the southeast shore. But by his second week on the job, Pono finds trouble here comes in unexpected forms.

As environmentalists, property developers, protesters, arsonists, kidnappers and a rogue Homeland Security agent converge on his new post, Pono feels like the eye of a brewing storm. And when a new FBI agent gets involved, Pono realizes the stakes are much higher than a quiet period in his career.

Lives will be lost if he doesn’t solve this mystery quickly.

Don’t wait—the contest closes April 2.

Enter your email address to be eligible to win.

Should I delete my Facebook account?



“When the service is free, you are the product”

Image: PixBay/Creative Commons

Whether they were successful or not, Cambridge Analytica has made a lot of people uncomfortable to the point that many have deleted their Facebook accounts, and more are considering it.

The scandal alleges that Cambridge Analytica unethically used 50 million people’s Facebook data to try to influence the 2016 U.S. election. This raises a question for BestSelling Reads members, and indeed all authors in this new age of independent writers and a market dominated by e-books: should we continue to have a presence on Facebook? If so, how do we protect ourselves, and our readers, fans and friends?

The need for social media

All the book marketing gurus tell authors that we need to have a social media presence, among other things, if we want to sell books. We’re also supposed to have a website, a blog, an email list with thousands of addresses—and we have to keep writing more books.

Every author I know has a Facebook profile, and so does the group itself. It has a lot of utility. It’s one of the main ways my readers connect with me. Last week, I held a live Facebook event to launch my new book on Amazon, and used Facebook Live to do reading from my new book. I had tons of comments, questions and entries to little giveaway contests that I had.

It’s hard to give up Facebook, an application that connects millions, if not a billion people.

But it has its dangers, in the form of people who misuse it for their own gain at others’ expense.

What Facebook is doing with your information

Facebook works by selling advertising. There are more than a billion users in the world, which makes it an enticing medium to any advertiser.

But Facebook goes beyond just broadcasting like television or radio. It uses the information about you to determine what you might be interested in. This allows advertisers to develop ads that will be more appealing to you. Facebook and advertisers use demographic information, like your age and where you live, to target advertising to you.

In addition to the personal data in your profile, Facebook gets more valuable information from things like how long you spend watching a video, or which apps and games you play, and which posts you respond to.

That’s why your advertising feed, the column on the right side of the screen, and the sponsored ads in your news feed are about products and services that echo what you’ve been responding to on Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica created an app on Facebook that asked people to take a quiz. It then exploited a loophole that allowed it to collect data about both the quiz takers and their Facebook friends, as well—in defiance of privacy laws that say data about a person can only be collected with their consent, and for the purpose for which it was collected in the first place.

Now it’s a huge scandal.

What’s the solution?

There are steps you can take to protect your data from misuse. Some are just so obvious, they shouldn’t need stating. But here they are, anyway.

  • Keep your password confidential. Don’t even tell family and friends. You may trust them not to abuse your profile, but they may not be as careful about protecting your identity as you are.
  • Don’t put your home phone number, home address, date of birth or email address in your Facebook profile.
  • Be careful about what you post, especially if it’s something that you know may offend or upset a potential employer. In general, I try not to be offensive and avoid offensive language. That doesn’t prevent people taking offense I what I say, however.
  • Don’t post about being away from home or on a long vacation—you are asking bad people to break into your house.

Privacy settings

Facebook has over 50 different privacy settings, with in total more than 170 options. The New York Times has published a simple guide to help you find them.

Start with the little downward-pointing triangle on the top right of the Facebook screen. Select Settings, then from the left menu, Privacy. Set who can see your profile information. Usually, the choices are Public, Friends, Friends except acquaintances, Only me and Custom.

But that’s not all. Every App has its own settings. So do Timeline, Ads, Public Posts, and every App. This is what makes games like Farmville so dangerous as well as annoying. Set to Public, it lets others see that you use the app. Make sure you’re comfortable with each setting here.

And even if you set everything to Private, advertisers can still use the data to build a profile of you. And you know that prompt you get to add your phone number to “enhance” your security? Don’t do it. It’s another data point that can be used to identify and target you.

Don’t share everything

The more you post on Facebook, the more information you give advertisers to target ads to you. You don’t have to share every restaurant meal, unless you want to get more ads from restaurant chains.

I have learned not to answer quizzes that will tell me which fictional character I am, or what my level of education is. That just helps advertisers target ads to me better.

I am also struggling with arguing politics and philosophy on Facebook. By the time someone gets around to uploading something egregiously false, they’ve worked themselves into a mindset that will not be changed by logic and facts, anyway.

Finally, here’s something I just learned from NBCnews.com: download a copy of all your Facebook data to see just how much information you’re actually sharing. You may be surprised.

Writing tip: Doing dashes right



One of the dead giveaways of a non-professional book is misusing the poor hyphen instead of a dash.

Let’s clear something up right away: a hyphen is not the same thing as a short dash, which is distinct from a long dash. They are three different punctuation marks, each with their own uses and rules. They are not interchangeable.

What they’re for

For example, a hyphen can combine two words into one, as in “long-term effects” or “father-in-law.” A hyphen helps avoid confusion in phrases like “high-school students,” which can be very different from “high school students.”

Hyphens also join numbers when they’re written out, such as “forty-two.”

Finally, hyphens indicate that a word is broken at the end of a line of text, when a word is too long to fit on a single line of text. Remember that you break the word between two syllables, with a few exceptions like “ther-apist.”

Dashes: the short and the long

There are two types of dashes. The short dash, also known as the “en dash” is twice as long as a hyphen. It’s also called the en dash because it’s the same width as a letter N. It’s used to indicate a range, most often in numbers, such as “pages 25–35.” It can also be used to indicate a range in space, like “a Toronto–Montreal flight.” However, most style guides recommend that use more for tables and illustrations, but in body text, to write “Toronto to Montreal.”

En dashes can also join words that already have hyphens (which is relatively rare), as in “private-sector–public-sector cooperation,” or when joining two things where one is two separate words, such as “pre–Second World War era.”

The long dash is also called the em dash because it’s the same width as a capital letter M, itself usually the widest letter in the alphabet. An em is twice as wide as an en.

The em-dash is used to link phrases and sentences, or to indicate an abrupt change in thought or logic. Here’s an example from my upcoming new book, Wildfire:

She had seen a question in her green eyes—was she really going to apply for a job in a restaurant?

It can take the place of parentheses or a colon, as in these examples from Wikipedia:

The food—which was delicious—reminded me of home.

Three alkali metals are the usual substituents—sodium, potassium, and lithium.

How to do it

Part of the problem with en and em dashes is that they don’t appear on the standard typewriter keyboard. Those of us who learned to type on typewriters—back in the day—learned to use multiple hyphens when we wanted a long dash. There was simply no other way to do it.

That limitation has survived, even though with our word processors, there’s no reason for it. Seriously, there are keys on the main part of my computer keyboard I almost never use, while getting the dash which I use frequently requires pressing three keys at once. Why a pipe symbol? Why curly brackets?

The way to geta an en dash in Microsoft Word on a Windows computer is to hold down the Ctrl key and press the minus sign at the top right of the number keypad.

On a Macintosh, again using Word, it’s done by holding down the Option key and pressing the hyphen or minus sign.

You can also type the alternative character code: hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) and type 0150.

Insert an em dash by adding the Ctrl key on Windows: Ctrl-Alt-Minus. On a Mac, it’s Shift-Option-Minus. The alt key code is Alt 0151. On a Macintosh, hold down the Option key.

On-screen typing

Tablets have made this easier. All you have to do is hold your finger down on the hyphen “key.” In a couple of seconds, you’ll get a menu of choices. Select the appropriate punctuation mark.

Spaced out or not

Some people like to put a single space on both sides of em dashes — like this — while others like them tight—like that. Whichever you choose, be consistent.

This may seem like a trivial matter, but hyphens and dashes stand out on a page or a screen, and they clearly signal someone who doesn’t appreciate the difference—and that a professional editor had not seen that page.

It’s almost as blatant as misusing quotation marks, but I’ll write more about that in another post.

Don’t miss your chance to save: Book launch for Wildfire coming March 22



You can reserve your advance copy of Wildfire for just 99 cents—but only until midnight March 21.

It’s only 6 days till the first Wine Country Mystery goes live on e-book retailer sites.

That means there’s less than a week left to pre-order your copy for just 99 cents. As of launch day—Thursday, March 22—the price goes up to $2.99.

So do as your parents advised you: buy when it’s on sale. And it’s on sale RIGHT NOW.

Win a signed paperback

I’m giving away three signed paperbacks copies of Wildfire. Send a screen capture to contact@writtenword.ca showing your order to enter your name in a draw for one of them.

And email this blog or the links to your friends who love good mysteries so they can enter the draw, too.

What’s Wildfire about?

The sun sets through the smoke from wildfires in Sonoma County, California, October 9, 2017. Photo by the author.

Wildfires swept across California wine country in 2017, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, and killing dozens of people. Law school grad and single mother Tara Rezeck finds herself in the middle of the catastrophe. When she returns to her job at the most award-winning vineyard in Sonoma County, she finds her employer’s body in the ashes.

The question that challenges her brains and her legal training is: was it an accident? Or was his body burned to hide evidence of murder?

Join the launch party on Facebook March 22 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. ET.

In the meantime, you can read the first two chapters for free on Wattpad.

We’re not as good as we think we are in Canada



RCMP watchdog to examine handling of Colten Boushie shooting

 

Indigenous leaders call for resignation of Thunder Bay police chief over non-investigation of death of Indigenous man

My home town seems to have become the epicentre of institutional racism in Canada.

I grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, a city sometimes called the Lakehead. Years, decades can go by without it getting noticed in the national news.

But it’s certainly been in the news a lot over the past year, and not in a good way.

Here’s one from the Globe and Mail of March 5, 2018:

“Indigenous leaders call on Thunder Bay police chief to resign after report alleges neglect of duty”

Then there’s this one from last summer:

First Nations woman dies after being hit by trailer hitch thrown from passing car in Thunder Bay, Ont.”

Barbara Kentner, left, was struck by a trailer hitch thrown from a moving car in Thunder Bay, Ont. Photo: CBC

Let’s look into these things a little closer.

Indigenous leaders like Robin McGinnis, Chief of the Rainy River First Nation, and Grand Chiefs Francis Kavanaugh and Alvin Fiddler, called for the chief of the Thunder Bay police force to resign or be fired over the investigation of the death of Stacy DeBungee, an Indigenous man in 2015.

DeBungee’s body was found in the McIntyre River in Thunder Bay. An independent report on the police investigation into the death found there were “serious deficiencies.” The victim’s brother said that the police immediately dismissed the death as not suspicious, and did little to no investigation. According to Brad DeBungee, the officers neglected to canvass witnesses, and ignored a woman who confessed to pushing Stacy DeBungee into the river. That woman has since died.

This case happened during an inquiry into the deaths of seven more First Nations people in rivers in Thunder Bay between 2000 and 2011. They were all initially deemed accidental, with alcohol involved. A coroner’s inquest changed that determination to “undetermined” in three of those cases. Which means there could have been foul play involved.

Then there’s the case of Barbara Kentner, a First Nations woman who was hit by a trailer hitch thrown from a passing car in January 2017 in Thunder Bay. The passenger in the car yelled “Oh, I got one,” after throwing the hitch. Ms. Kentner died of her injuries in July. Brayden Bushby, who was 18 at the time, has been arrested and charged. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for September 10.

First Nations people, including relatives of the victim, say it’s not uncommon for them to have things thrown at them from passing cars in Thunder Bay.

Do you see a pattern here? Blatant racially motivated violence and lack of concern over it by police.

But Thunder Bay is not the only place where this goes on.

Last month, Gerald Stanley of Saskatchewan was acquitted of killing Colton Boushie, a First Nations man.

The fact that Stanley shot Boushie is not in dispute. He claimed he was not responsible, that the rifle in his hands went off accidentally, and the jury believed him.

Or rather, the Crown prosecutors did not convince the jury that he was guilty beyond doubt. That’s the way our criminal courts work—which is good.

What is not good is that the investigators and prosecutors did not even try. The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission of the RCMP has begun investigation into the original investigation of the event, to determine whether it was done “reasonably” and whether race was a factor.

You think?

The RCMP did not take photos of the evidence at the scene for hours, until after dark. They then left the vehicle where Boushie died uncovered, in the rain, for two days. They did not test it for blood or gunpowder residue.

The RCMP took Gerald Stanley to their detachment to take photos, then let him go, allowing him to return the following day to make a statement. Which means he had opportunity to confer with other witnesses. The RCMP did not even take his shirt, losing potential evidence of blood spatter and gunpowder residue.

According to Boushie’s family, the RCMP were much more assiduous in investigating them. They rushed to his mother’s home in two cars and came in with weapons drawn. After announcing to Debbie Baptiste, Boushie’s mother, that her son was dead, they asked whether she’d been drinking and searched the home.

Communication: it’s what police do

A criminal case, particularly when it gets to court, is a particular exercise in communication. Investigators find facts, then link them to build an argument, or case. A Crown prosecutor (that’s what we call them in Canada) then presents that story to a jury or a judge, who decides whether to believe the story or find it less than convincing.

In our system, it’s up to the prosecutor to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. If they fail to do that, the jury is obliged to find the defendant not guilty.

In Saskatchewan, the Crown failed to make its case convincingly. It’s as if the RCMP were trying not to collect a convincing weight of evidence.

The same story plays out across the country wherever Indigenous people are involved. Over and over, white people get away with murder when it comes to Indigenous people.

We’re not what we say we are

Canadians like to think of ourselves as open, inclusive and fair. And we like to project that image to the world. But the image fails under the lightest scrutiny.

Canada has consistently failed to treat Indigenous people fairly. We’ve known it for a very long time. We have accepted this contradiction between what we say to visitors and immigrants, and the way we treat Indigenous Canadians.

The Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls only got started  last year, after years of being opposed by the previous Prime Minister.

Governments budget less than half as much money per student in an Indigenous community. More than 100 First Nations communities in this country don’t have clean drinking water. Some have been boiling their water for decades. And it’s only in the past two years that any effort has been taken to correct this.

When did our civilization decide that ensuring its people had safe water to drink was a priority for government? Oh, yah, about 5,000 years ago.

It’s time we non-Indigenous Canadians—okay, I’ll say it: white—acknowledged how badly we’ve been treating Indigenous people.

It’s time to change. And if the police at any level, across the country, can’t, it’s time to change the police.

Leave a comment.

Get a taste of a California wine country mystery



Do you love California wine? Great food? Mysteries?

Indulge your tastes on Wattpad.

You can now read Chapter 1: An Open Door, on Wattpad.

Tara’s shoulder slammed into the passenger door as the big old pickup flew around a bend. She wanted to tell Roberto to slow down and speed up at the same time, so she clenched her jaws to prevent herself from biting her tongue as the truck bounced on the rough dirt road.

The air in the truck was thick with heat and smoke. Tara tasted ash in her throat. To the west on the left, Tara could see blue sky through the windshield above the scrub-covered, brown slopes. But on her side, east, grey clouds that faded to black at the horizon blocked the sky. A slope fell away beyond the road’s narrow shoulder, smoke obscuring the vineyards she knew grew there. Opening a window would only let in the smoke, and it was already hard to breathe.

Tara clutched the door handle as the truck fishtailed. She heard the crunch of tires on the narrow gravel shoulder. Roberto wrestled the wheel, bringing the truck back on course.

You’ll have to join this free story-sharing platform, but once you do, you’ll get to read a huge number of stories, poems and books from the widest imaginable range of authors.

Start with Wildfire, the first book in a projected new mystery series about a smart, independent single mother who becomes a legal investigator in California wine country. Then branch out and explore everything that Wattpad has to offer: mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, romance—there’s even something called “Creepypasta.”

Enjoy!