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Pictures From a Darkroom Floor: My Life in France

By Heather Cook
Two Ladies Press, 390 pgs
Review by Jon Muldoon

Anyone curious about what life was like in 1960s France should pick up Heather Cook’s Pictures From a Darkroom Floor: My Life in France, a memoir about her early adulthood in Paris and the small village of Najac, with stops in other European locales, all the while living through a tumultuous relationship with occasional lover and eventual ex-husband John Cook.

Heather, a documentary producer who freely admits she is likely best known to most Canadians for “giving birth to guitarist Jesse Cook,” heard her son being interviewed on CBC radio, and realized he didn’t know much about his parents’ life in France. Pictures is her recollection of the events and happenings that led to the birth of first Hilary, and then Jesse, and the important role place has played in their family history.

Beginning in Quebec, Heather takes the reader through her college years, then to England, where she began to build a career as a writer. Her travels – and her relationship – eventually led to France, where she and John, still unmarried, bought a rundown farm house in a tiny hamlet in the Aveyron region. The action moves back and forth between the country house and Paris, where Heather works as a model and John, despite his initial misgivings about the industry, builds a career as a fashion photographer.

Pictures makes clear Heather’s experience in France was formative, particularly time spent in the country. But place is not the only factor at play in the book. Heather’s silent outrage at not being treated as an equal by her husband slowly builds throughout, leading to the pair’s eventual split and a newfound spirit of feminism and independence for the single mother of two.

And for those interested in food and fashion – two cultural aspects inseparable from Paris – Pictures does not disappoint. Heather’s memories are bolstered by letters and diary entries, in which she recorded often vivid details of meals at home and in restaurants. Clothing worn for modelling gigs, as well as clothes worn in everyday life, and those she eventually designed herself, are all given play.

Pictures From a Darkroom Floor: My Life in France offers a multi-faceted look at the contrasts, struggles and successes of life in the big city and the tiny village; at married life and single motherhood; at the culture of France, from the view of an expatriate Canadian born of English parents.

Of course, as magical as her life in France may have seemed, Heather points out in the note included with the book sent to the Beach Metro News office, “At the end of this book I returned to Canada and a year later I moved to the Beach. I’ve been here ever since.”

 

Snap Judgment
By Brenda Dow
Trafford Publishing, 332 pgs
Review by Carole Stimmell

I was delighted to read a new novel by local artist  (and now author) Brenda Dow entitled Snap Judgment.

Last summer I had the pleasure of reviewing Dow’s first Ruth Bowen Regency Mystery, Friend At Court [Beach Metro News, July 31, 2013], and was impressed by her knowledge of the period.

That ability to capture the feeling of early 19th-century life in England continues in Snap Judgment but doesn’t get in the way of a good murder mystery. The main character is a strong, believable woman, forced to make a choice between the man she loved and her family, because the man was a Quaker.

Today, of course, Quakers are well respected for their views on non-violence, but in the regency period, their beliefs were considered suspect and they were not even allow to pursue some professions. The first novel begins three year’s after the husband’s death when Ruth reconciles with her family. The second continues in London, where she returns to the watch-making business she and her stepson run to discover there has been a murder on the premises and her stepson is suspected.

The plot has enough twists and turns to keep the story going, and this being a regency novel, there is plenty of romance … in a restrained Jane Austen manner, of course.

And for those who love to get involved in a series, a short taste of the next installment, called Friends and Enemies, is included. I look forward to reading what life has in store for Ruth Bowen.

 

Flo: A Very Special Budgie
By Joan Marie Wright
Dorrance Publishing, 35 pgs
Review by Andrew Hudson

“Flossita del Budgeroo” is the full, fancy name for Flo, the sky-blue star of this picture book by retired librarian and budgie fancier Joan M. Wright.

Flo, a show bird used to a tinkling bell and three swinging perches in her own special cage, begins the book with a fall from grace.

After her owner passes away, Flo winds up in a plain-old aviary, sharing seeds with a cross-winged budgie named Fred. Flo gets her feathers ruffled when Fred and his all-budgie choir start to rehearse for their own show – the aviary’s annual concert for local wild birds.

But when Flo’s fancy leg ring hooks her in a perilous predicament, Fred comes to her rescue. Before he can get to her, she lets out a shrill “Aaaaooowee!” that reveals her hidden soprano song.

Besides the coos that follow, the fun of Flo’s story is reading it out loud. From the choir songs (“Food is good / We chew on wood / In our big aviareee”) to the thump-thumpity of Fred’s smitten heart, Wright’s chipper story of outward beauty and hidden talents makes for a good bedtime read.

Parents get a few chuckles, too, such as Fred’s “sideways looks” at Flo, and birders will naturally enjoy the bright budgie illustrations and the cameo by yard birds like blue jays, cardinals and the rat-tat-tatting woodpecker who gives them all a beat.

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