Outcasts of River Falls, by Jacqueline Guest

Guest Review by Hannah Grant

Sequel to Belle of Batoche, this novel follows the adventures of Kathryn Tourond through the death of her parents and the changes in her lifestyle that result from it. Kathryn was raised as an upperclass white girl, uninformed of her father’s Métis roots. Now an orphan, she is sent to live with her Aunt Belle, a dark-skinned Métis woman. Kathryn is disdained to find out that her aunt owns a small run-down home on the outskirts of the white territory, has to work hard for everything she has, and is treated differently from the white people. She is even more disgruntled when she realizes she must help with the household chores.

As time passes, Kathryn sees the struggles of the Métis and how unfair it is that they are treated as trash, but for a long time she doesn’t think of herself as one of them. She thinks of her time in River Falls as temporary and hopes to return to her school in Toronto and go on to become a lawyer.

One aspect of River Falls, however, Kathryn finds intriguing: the story of the mysterious Highwayman who brings justice and fairness to the Métis. She hopes to solve the mystery of the Highwayman, but soon finds out that her aunt is involved. When the Highwayman is framed for a murder, he and Belle could be in danger, and it is up to Kathryn to help them.

This story details the hardships faced by the Métis in the early 1900s and the changes in Kathryn’s perspective towards her people. A good read for both children and adults, this book is the tale of a girl coming to love her family for who they are and cherish a simple country life in River Falls.


The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor

In the 1930’s, Patrick Leigh Fermor, known to his friends as Paddy, decided to walk across Europe from Holland to Constantinople (Istanbul). This journey took him across Germany just as the Nazis were coming to power, and his earlier books about this journey, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water are a fascinating eyewitness account of that time. His account of his journey was always meant to span three volumes, but at the time of his death he had still not completed the third. The Broken Road contains what was meant to be that final volume, written in the sixties but never given its finishing polish for publication, and a diary written on Mount Athos soon after his great hike. Fermor’s lyrical prose and acute eye for detail are as strong as in any of his earlier books and offer a vivid portrait of a world and time now gone.

This is not the last new work from Fermor, either. Although we don’t have it in the library yet, we are definitely going to be getting Abducting a General, the just-published account of Fermor’s wartime adventure on occupied Crete as leader of the SOE commando team that kidnapped the German general Heinrich Kreipe. (One of the other British officers involved, W. Stanley Moss, wrote a book about the mission entitled Ill Met by Moonlight, which was made into a movie in 1957. Fermor is played by Dirk Bogarde in that.)

Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s First Female Rocket Scientist, by George D. Morgan

When George D. Morgan submitted his mother’s obituary to the Los Angeles Times following her death, it was rejected because the paper said his statements about her life could not be verified. NAA, North American Aviation, had not kept the meticulous records one might expect of an aerospace company devoted to scientific and technological research and a history of the company (by a retired engineer, drawing mostly on his own memories due to the lack of preserved records) would not be written for another few years. Prompted in part by that fact, and in part by a natural desire to know more about his mother’s career before all the living memory of it was lost as her colleagues likewise aged and died, George set out to unearth his mother’s history, personal and professional. She had been a scientist during the paranoia of the McCarthy era, had invented the propellant used to fuel the rocket that launched the first US satellite, and had even as an old woman refused to talk about her work with her children. George, a playwright, was motivated by the obituary refusal to research and write a successful play about his mother’s accomplishments. That play, Rocket Girl, led in turn to further revelations about her private life.

This is not a conventional biography. George clearly looks on himself more as a storyteller than as an historian and admits that the story is “creative non-fiction”. Although the historical facts are true, he presents the episodes of Mary’s life in a novelistic style, with narrative and imagined dialogue and emotion, interspersing this with accounts of his own search for information and childhood memories of the engineers he meets again as elderly men in the course of his researches. He also contrasts the life of Mary, a girl who was only able to start school at age eight because social services showed up at the house and threatened her father with jail if she did not, a girl who, having won entrance to college, had to sneak away from home to take up her place, with that of her contemporary, the privileged German Werner von Braun, who would build rockets for Hitler and later be celebrated by the Americans as the father of their space program. In an afterword, George meticulously documents where he has had to invent minor details, such as names of unknown technicians, to serve the flow of his narrative. The overall effect, though not as rigorous a history as one might like, is none the less an important testament to the work of a female scientist whose significant contributions during the Cold War space race were in danger of being forgotten by the historical record.

The Coffee Table Book of Doom, by Steven Appleby and Art Lester

“A handy guide to all the ways you and everyone else might cease to exist”. The Coffee Table Book of Doom, written by Art Lester and illustrated by iconic British cartoonist Steven Appleby (creator of Captain Star), is a black-humoured tour through all the ways we, and our planet with us (and in some scenarios because of us), might perish. Light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek, this book is nevertheless a serious look at the end of the world as we know it, grounded on real science and social science. Chapters such as “Cosmic Doom”, “Eco Doom”, “Geophysical Doom”, “Technological Doom”, and “Religious Doom”, among others, count their way down in a book whose pages are numbered back to front. Appleby’s distinctive (and occasionally naughty) art sometimes provides useful visual metaphors for the subjects being discussed, and sometimes underscores the ridiculousness and frequent futility of human responses. It’s a funny book, but one that will make you think, both about the real doomsday scenarios (maybe even the ones within human power to avert), and about why we have such a fascination, even a need, for a sense of impending apocalypse.