Lost & Found Theatre scores with “Pocket Rocket”


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Lost & Found Theatre - Pocket RocketThere are any number of hockey cliches that could be used to describe Pocket Rocket: A play in three periods currently being staged by Kitchener’s Lost & Found Theatre. Using any one of them (except in this blog’s head) would detract from the excellence of the production.

The first act, or period, took me back to my own adolescence in small Southwestern Ontario town where road hockey was the pastime of choice. I recognized (and remembered who was) the play’s characters:

  • Steve (Andrei Preda) – the jock who thought he was better than everyone else and let everyone know it.
  • Paul (Mark Kreder) – the physically and socially awkward teen with overprotective parents who desperately wanted to fit in.
  • Dave (Matt White) – the vulnerable one whose family circumstances leads him to look for a family in his friends.
  • Cindy/Sid (Hannah Ziss) – the tomboy on the brink of becoming a young woman.
  • Ifty (Suchiththa Desilva) – the new kid on the block and the outsider who changes the group’s dynamics.

Pocket Rocket is  filled with humour, pathos and heart-wrenching emotion that will find you laughing one moment and deep in thought the next.

With Act 1 set in 1967, “Canada’s last great year” pronounces Steve, Pocket Rocket opens with our 14-year-olds – Steve, Paul, Dave and Cindy – saying good-bye to an old friend, hello to a new friend and discovering more about themselves than they want to. Playwrights Lea Daniel and Gary Kirkham have written a script filled with humour, pathos and heart-wrenching emotion that will find you laughing one moment and deep in thought the next.

In Act/Period 2, now set in 1981, the friends gather to help Dave move and, for old times’ sake, have another game of road hockey. The tensions – sexual, personal, familial and otherwise – introduced in Act 1 continue to simmer until they explode. By the end of the act everything has changed leaving everyone wondering if life will ever be the same. The shift in time gives the cast a chance to showcase their acting muscles from convincingly portraying adolescents to maturing adults.

Act/Period 3 opens 14 years later with the friends gathering for another farewell and one last road hockey game. Some of the old tensions remain, while others have been resolved. If I had one criticism of Pocket Rocket it’s that the play’s denouement seemed somewhat rushed in this act leaving some of the plays issues (especially around Dave and Steve) unanswered.

Pocket Rocket is another stellar effort from Lost & Found Theatre. To riff on Steve’s opening line, all I can say is “I love this play.”


Pocket Rocket continues until April 30. For more performance and ticket information check http://www.lostandfoundtheatre.ca/#!performances/ffiv7

“More Than Miracles” more than a simple history of the Scott Mission


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More Than Miracles coverThe Scott Mission first came to my attention in the late 1990s when I worked in the Salvation Army’s public relations department in Toronto. At the time, I saw the Scott as one of the myriad of Christian social service ministries serving those in need in the city.

Reading Toronto-area freelance journalist Ben Volman’s new book, More Than Miracles: Elaine Zeidman Markovic and the Story of the Scott Mission, gave me a new appreciation for the Scott, its ministry and the people who have served there.

Volman, with the eye of a journalist and heart of a pastor (he’s also the Toronto director of Chosen People Ministries and the spiritual leader of Kehillat Eytz Chaim/Tree of Life Messianic Congregation) tells of the triumphs and trials of the Scott and those closest to it: the Zeidman family.

A challenge of those writing histories is the delicate balance between glorifying the subject or tearing it apart. Volman manages to balance hagiography with the reality of the Scott’s struggles (especially after the untimely death of Alex Zeidman, its second director.)

While other histories of the Scott have been written – a fact noted by Volman – More Than Miracles recounts its history through the eyes of Elaine Zeideman Markovic, one of the four children of mission founders Morris and Annie Zeidman.

Markovic, along with her brothers Alex and David (who both became directors) and sister Margaret, all contributed in some way to the ministry of the Scott. In her 50-plus years of working at the Scott, Markovic filled a variety of behind-the-scenes roles and Volman sensitively recounts her own struggles with her place in ministry and her ultimate resolution to serve God in whatever role He chose.

One of the strengths of More Than Miracles is Volman’s choices as a writer. As someone who has also written organizational histories, I know the challenge of choosing which document or interview to quote from and how much should be quoted. Volman as struck the right balance between narrating the story and choosing from the myriad of Scott Mission’s ephemera and interviews he’d held. Volman has an uncanny knack for knowing when to speak as the author and when to let a diary entry, letter or person speak.

This sensitivity has led to a well-written book that was a joy to read. Whether you are familiar with the Scott Mission, or just have a passing knowledge of the “Miracle on Spadina,” More Than Miracles should take a place on your to-read list.


For more information on More Than Miracles check http://castlequaybooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=101

Film will move viewers close enough to hear God breathe


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Breathe - coverWith the words “We waited until the last of my children arrived before taking my father off of life support…” Jason Hildebrand’s portrayal and Mike Janzen’s piano breathe life into Greg Paul’s words in Breathe…

Breathe… is a film version of the stage play co-created by Hildebrand and Tom Carson with music by Janzen. Inspired by Paul’s award-winning book, Close Enough to Hear God Breathe, the play explores the “story of a man who never heard ‘I love you’ from his father, searching through the characters of his life to find – ‘I love you’.”

The scenes in Breathe… derive from a variety of sources:

Paul’s own life: in the opening vignette, “father…”, the opening vignette, tells the story of the last day’s of Paul’s father. “soapbox preacher…” tells how Paul’s grandfather was saved through the ministry of a Hamilton street evangelist.

Every aspect of Breathe… depicts the deepest need of the human heart: intimacy with God.

Scripture: “baptist…” portrays Jesus baptism by his cousin John (and effectively uses a rolling fog effect to portray the Jordan River). “feast…” invites all to be close enough to hear God breathe and celebrate His feast.

Paul’s ministry to the street-involved: “rob…” a poignant portrayal of a man succumbing to the demons of addiction that he’d long fought. “leonard…” a childhood friend of Paul’s who wonders if “God could love me like my grandmother does.”

The sparse set, for the most part, comprises only Hildebrand and Janzen at a grand piano. And, occasionally, a wooden chair. The lighting for each scene (predominantly white, with only a few color settings) helps set the mood, with a fog effect being used to depict smoke, clouds or water.

Along with restrained camera work, Breathe… gives the viewer the chance to be caught up in each story as Hildebrand brings to life the unforgettable characters Paul depicted on the page: from the gruffness of his father, to the lost innocence of Leonard, from the bewilderment of a street preacher, to the tenderness of a father with his newborn daughter.

Janzen’s score to Breathe… is as integral to the film as Hildebrand’s acting. Without it, Leonard’s story would be less poignant, the feast less meaningful and the father’s time with his newborn daughter less tender. But it’s not just the music. Janzen uses a looping effect to provide sound effects for a couple of scenes, including the bustle of Hamilton’s steel industry in the 1920s.

Every aspect of Breathe… – Hildebrand’s acting, Janzen’s music and the filmmaking – depicts the deepest need of the human heart: intimacy with God. For some, it will raise more questions than it answers. For others, it will provide the answers to their questions. For all, it will move them towards that moment where they’re “close enough to hear God breathe.”


For more information on Breathe… go to http://www.jasonhildebrand.com

To listen to an Arts Connection interview with Jason Hildebrand and Mike Janzen talk about the creation of the stage version of Breathe… check http://tinyurl.com/h73s62e

And for more on how you can support Arts Connection go to: https://www.gofundme.com/artsconnection

Finding some advice along life’s highway


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A Traveler's Advisory - coverIn the early 1990s, Canadian singer/songwriter Tom Cochrane said “Life is a Highway.” In Marcia Laycock’s latest book A Traveler’s Advisory: Stories of God’s Grace Along the Way she notes that even when the highway becomes a little bumpy, God is there to either smooth the way or get us through the rough patches.

The pocket-sized A Traveler’s Advisory (124-page, 8″ x 5″ book) packs more depth than it’s size would suggest. Laycock, an award-winning author, uses her experiences as a pastor’s wife, missionary and traveler as she looks at the highway of life in sections titled “In the Air,” “On the Road,” “On Vacation” and “Far Away Places.”

One of the strengths of the book is Laycock’s folksy writing style. Having met her at a number of writers’ conferences and interviewed her for Arts Connection, reading through A Traveler’s Advisory was like listening to her tell the stories in person.

Laycock weaves the memory and spiritual lesson into a seamless fabric

Take, for instance, this excerpt from her story “A Mini Parked Between Semis”:

I gripped the wheel of my Austin Mini and concentrated on the flow of traffic around me. I had never driven through this area before but I knew the route I had to follow would take me through the heart of a large city. There was no bypass to avoid the downtown traffic. I stayed in the middle lane to avoid vehicles turning left and right. As the city began to close around me, so did the traffic. I was already feeling a bit claustrophobic when a huge semi pulled up to my right. We both stopped at a red light.

Then another semi pulled up on my left. The two trucks effectively blocked out the sun. I glanced in my rear-view mirror just as a third semi pulled in behind me, stopping inches from my tiny bumper….”

The book’s other strength is the ease with which Laycock blends spiritual lessons into the narrative. I’ve read similar books where the lessons seem to be tacked on at the last moment as if to say: here’s the lesson, in case you didn’t get it.

Laycock weaves the memory and spiritual lesson into a seamless fabric. Again I turn to “A Mini Parked Between Semis”:

“I remembered looking into the rear-view mirror of my Austin Mini and seeing nothing but bumper. I remembered how those semis had blocked out the sun. And I remembered focusing on that stop-light, knowing that it would eventually turn green and let me get out of there. Sometimes life puts us in a box of pain and confusion. The only way to survive is to hang on to the One you know will get you out.”

A Traveler’s Advisory is a quick read, but a deep read. And a book that you’ll return to again and again because you’ll discover a new truth each time you read it.


For more about Marcia Laycock and A Traveler’s Advisory: Stories of God’s Grace Along the Way go to http://marcialeelaycock.com/

Artist’s book a visual look at her inspirations


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Art begets Art - coverWhen interviewing artists for the Arts Connection radio show, I usually ask them “where do you get the inspiration for your art?”

Winnipeg-based artist Faye Hall’s new book ART begets ART is a 40-page answer to that question.

As a child, one of Hall’s teachers recognized her artistic ability and suggested Hall’s parents encourage her. Which they did, leading her to a 20-year career in advertising design. Eventually, for various reasons that she mentions in the book, Hall turned to other pursuits – which included putting paintbrush to canvas.

Hall’s art is visually stunning. And when you begin to look at the details – the use of colour and meticulous brush strokes –  you’ll marvel at the amount of time and effort Hall must spend on each painting. Some of them are so realistic, they could be mistaken for the photographs which originally inspired the art.Art begets Art - Sunglasses

Which brings me to the book’s subtitle: “One Artist’s Inspiration.” Accompanying many of her paintings are the stories behind the art.

Sometimes, in the case of the image to the right, titled “Steve’s Sunglasses,” it’s a photo. In this case, one taken by singer/songwriter Steve Bell on a Canadian Foodgrains Bank-sponsored trip to Ethiopia.

Inspiration, Hall writes, “is like the presence of God. It can manifest in the texture of a tangle of branches in the woods, it can be an image that appears in my mind upon hearing the words of a poet or pastor – it can be the dapple of light reflected in the eyes of a loved child.”

Art begets Art - GuiteIn the case of “In Coleridge’s Wake” (left), inspiration came from a photo on social media of U.K. songwriter/poet/vicar Malcom Guite, which grabbed her attention.

“The image hit me like a pail of lake water thrown in my face – here was my next painting – and I was helpless to resist,” writes Hall of an image which has become one of my favourites in the book.

Each story, helps readers delve deeper into the heart and mind of an artist. The reader of ART begets ART comes away with a greater appreciation for the art Hall has crafted from her varied inspirations.

ART begets ART is a short book, but it’s a full book. Hall’s art and the reflections on her inspirations will keep readers coming back to the book again and again. I know that each time I’ve looked through it, I’ve come away with a new insight from her stories of inspiration or a new appreciation for one of her paintings.


For more information about Faye Hall, check http://fayehall.com/.

For information on ART begets ART check http://www.friesenpress.com/bookstore/title/119734000022127417

Watch for details about an upcoming Arts Connection interview with Faye Hall

More “Hot Apple Cider” to warm the soul


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Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon - coverLike a cup of hot apple cider warming the body on a cold day, the Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon anthology will warm the soul.

The fourth in the Hot Apple Cider series, the latest volume contains 67 stories – some true, some fiction and a few are poems – all based around the theme, and subtitle, of “finding love in unexpected places.

In the foreward, author and speaker Sheila Wray Gregoire explains the theme: “Real love is seeing your neighbour, your family and your friends with new eyes. It’s deciding to laugh, to love, to live in the knowledge that pain in the world is inevitable, but love is a choice.”

For those unfamiliar with the series, it started in 2008 as a partnership between World Vision Canada, The Word Guild and That’s Life! Communications. The Hot Apple Cider anthology featured the work of 30 Canadian writers who are Christian and was, initially, part of a package of gifts given to those attending a World Vision Canada-sponsored event – as well as being distributed through traditional channels eventually reaching best-seller status. This success spawned A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider and the shorter anthology A Taste of Hot Apple Cider.

Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon is as comforting as an old quilt

With the format set – think of a Christian version of Chicken Soup for the Soul – readers will find Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon as comforting as an old quilt. There are stories that will make you laugh like “The ‘Other’ First Prize” by Martin Smith or “Kosovo Canteen Concert” by Adele Simmons. There are stories that will make you cry like “Mother, Go Gently” a poem by L. June Stevenson and “Until Death Do Us Part” by Ray Wiseman. And a few that will make you laugh and cry like “Champ!” by David Kitz and “The Cat We Didn’t Need” by Ruth Ann Adams.

There are a couple of significant strengths Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon. The first is the richness created by the variety of voices used and tales told. The second is the rigorous selection and editing process which has honed the stories into polished gems.

So grab a cup of your favourite warm beverage (hot apple cider preferred) and curl up with Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon: Stories of Finding Love in Unexpected Places and prepare to have your body and soul warmed.


For more information on Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon or any of the other Hot Apple Cider anthologies go to http://thatslifecommunications.com/hot-apple-cider-books/

To listen to an Arts Connection interview with That’s Life! Communication’s (and Hot Apple Cider co-publisher) Les Lindquist go to http://tinyurl.com/j7ml3dx

Spend some quality time listening to “Nudging Forever”


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Mike Janzen - Nudging Forever coverI’ve been listening to Mike  Janzen’s Nudging Forever CD fairly steadily since getting a review copy about a month ago. And much of that time has been spent figuring out how to review it.

Because it’s been a challenge to find a way to describe something I find is indescribable.

Nudging Forever combines the beauty of a classical string orchestra with the excitement of the Mike Janzen Trio (Janzen on piano, George Koller on bass and Larnell Lewis on drums), with the occasional mellow tones of Kevin Turcotte’s flugelhorn added in. All of which creates an aural delight for music fans of all genres.

The concept of Nudging Forever took root after a “season of tremendous busyness” says Janzen in the CD’s liner notes. A line from Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God – “when we play we nudge the border of forever” – stuck with Janzen, as did the dream of a collaboration between a jazz trio and string orchestra.

Nudging Forever is an aural delight for music fans of all genres

The CD has been built around the liturgy of hours used in Benedictine monasteries during the 12th and 13th centuries: Vigil (night watch), Matins (morning prayer), Prime (first hour or around 6 a.m.), Terce (third hour or 9 a.m.), Sext (sixth hour or 12 noon), None (ninth hour or 3 p.m.), Vespers (evening prayer or 6 p.m.) and Compline (night prayer around 9 p.m.).

This seems to have given Janzen a framework with which to compose the songs on Nudging Forever. The pianissimo piano and strings depict the quietness of the night watch found in the opening track of “Vigil” while a livelier pace is set with “Time Painting,” the CD’s sixth track built around the activity of Sext.

Perhaps my personal favorite is “Matins” which starts with the sound of rousing strings before slowing to a more settled pace set by Janzen’s piano – similar to someone waking up and settling into their daily routine. As would be expected in following the liturgy of hours, the last song “Devotion” strikes a meditative tone in completion to the day and the CD.

In the liner notes, Janzen notes the difference between two Greek words used to define time: chronos, or measured time, and kairos, or the quality of time. I suggest you take the chronos time to listen to Nudging Forever because, in the end, it will prove to be well-spent kairos time.


For more information on Mike Janzen and Nudging Forever check https://mike-janzen.squarespace.com/

To listen to the Arts Connection interview where Mike talks about the Nudging Forever project, check: http://tinyurl.com/zldjat7

“The Masked Saint” sets the bar for Christian filmmakers


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TheMaskedSaint_27x40_FINALWhen Pastor Chris Samuels, the main character in The Masked Saint (portrayed by Brett Granstaff), is at his lowest, his wife Michelle (Lara Jean Chorostecki) makes as statement that sums up the whole movie:

“You’ve always been that little boy who’s afraid of the bully. Don’t be the bully. You’ve always been a son who’s looking for his father. Now you have to look after the church. You’ve always been a man looking for a second chance. Now you have one.”

The Masked Saint, which opens in Canadian theatres this coming weekend, is based on the novel by pastor Chris Whaley and is based on Whaley’s own career as a professional wrestler in the 1980s. In the movie, after being called to a small church in Michigan, Samuels faces a shrinking congregation, dwindling finances and a hostile neighbourhood. Thinking he’s left the ring for good, Samuels ends up using his wrestling skills as a masked vigilante and then as a way to prop up the congregation’s finances.

Having been disappointed by previous Christian films, I previewed The Masked Saint with some skepticism. But I was disappointed again. The film exceeded my expectations and, in my opinion has reset the bar for other Christian filmmakers.

The Masked Saint presents a solid story with well-developed and believable characters

Unlike other movies in this genre, The Masked Saint presents a solid story with well-developed and believable characters. Chris Samuels isn’t a perfect pastor who has it all together. In much the same way that Eric Liddell found God’s pleasure in running in Chariots of Fire, it isn’t until the saintly Ms Edna (veteran actor Diahann Carroll) encourages Chris to get back into the wrestling ring and use his God-given talents.

Still, The Masked Saint had a few weaknesses. One is in the character of Judd Lumpkin (Patrick McKenna), which comes across as more of a caricature of a controlling church board chair, than a believable character. This makes Lumpkin’s own repentance scene seem slightly contrived. Another weakness would be how some police procedures (the line-up scene) are sacrificed for the sake of increasing tension and conflict. In the end, though, the story and characters overcome any weaknesses.

From producer Cliff McDowell’s home-town of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario substituting for Michigan to the wrestling sequences, The Masked Saint is beautifully shot. And the use of wrestlers-turned-actors Roddy Piper (as the less-than-honest wrestling promoter Nicky Stone) and James Preston Rogers (as the Reaper) add authenticity to the movie.

As Chris Samuels struggles with his calling and the consequences from following that calling, The Masked Saint builds to an inevitable conclusion. That’s not to say it’s a cliched conclusion – there’s still lots of room for doubt and a surprise ending right up until the final scene. And that’s what makes The Masked Saint stand head and shoulders above its peers.


For information on the Canadian release of The Masked Saint check http://www.p23ent.com/


New year a time of promise, wonder, excitement


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january-calendarA new page. A clean slate. A blank computer screen. An unpainted canvas. An unfilled calendar

For those of us in the arts, these phrases – new page, blank computer screen or unpainted canvas – take on a different meaning. Instead of representing a metaphorical new start, these phrases literally depict the start of our creative process.

Last year I began setting goals instead of making resolutions, some of which were vocationally related. Some I accomplished (finish The Fall of Niagara, begin the outline/treatment for The Fall of Tecumseh and continue work on the Stone Churches Project). Others weren’t (start a Love Inspired historical romance, start the outline for a book on the intersection of faith, arts and Canadian culture and find funding for the Arts Connection broadcasts on 94.3 Faith FM). One vocational project I hadn’t planned, but completed, was co-writing and seeing the Audience of One Christian Theatre Company production of the musical Meet You at the Manger.

I’ve continued this practice and created a list of vocational goals for 2016: find a publisher for The Fall of Niagara, continue the first draft of The Fall of Tecumseh, complete the photography and research for the Stone Churches Project, work on an other play for the Audience of One and look at the start-up of an event photography business.

The concept of goal-setting can seem to fly in the face of the creative spirit.

To some, the concept of goal-setting can fly in the face of the creative spirit. Until a year ago, I was more like the boy who shot an arrow at the side of the barn and painted the target around the arrow. Some targets were missed, but others were hit. And that encourages me. My experience last year showed that goals can be as motivating as an editor’s deadline.

As artists who are Christian, spiritual growth may not be among the list of vocational goals, but I hope it’s a life goal. Topping my list of goals in 2015 was the desire to maintain a consistent devotional life with daily prayer and Bible reading. The one-year chronological plan through the YouVersion smart phone app was key to meeting the last part of that goal.

Working on my 2016 goals, topping the list, again, was a desire to grow spiritually through prayer and study. As the calendar turns a page and I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness to me, I pledge my faithfulness to God. I don’t know what this year will bring—happiness or pain, loss or gain, health or illness—but I know that God will be in the midst of it all, carrying me through whatever happens.

My new year’s wish is that your blank slate, unwritten page, unpainted canvas, empty computer screen will be filled as God breathes His creative spirit into your life.


Portions of this column appeared in the January 2, 2016 edition of the Guelph Mercury column “Make the spiritual a priority in your new year.”

Author’s patience, efforts make “Bomb Girls” a fascinating read


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Bomb Girls coverMost of the buildings on the 346 acres of land in Scarboro have disappeared. But from 1941 to 1945 the area running south from Eglinton Avenue to Hymus Road and west from Warden Avenue to Birchmount Road in the modern-day Toronto suburb of Scarborough, Canada’s largest munitions factory employed more than 21,000 people (most of them women) who produced more than 256 million pieces of munitions.

After stumbling onto this little-known episode of Canadian history in her own back yard, Scarborough, Ontario author Barbara Dickson spent a decade researching and writing Bomb Girls: Trading Aprons for Ammo which was released last year.

Once Dickson found out about some mysterious tunnels under some of Scarborough’s businesses, her writer’s curiosity led her down a path where she discovered the General Engineering Company (GECO, pronounced gee-ko) munitions plant. It took a decade to uncover the story because much of the historically-vital information has been lost. As a government-sponsored munitions factory, most of GECO’s paperwork was destroyed or deem classified when the factory was decommissioned in 1945.

Dickson’s patience and efforts make Bomb Girls a fascinating read.

Through painstaking research, Dickson was able to track down what remained of memos, letters and photos that are part of private collections. She was also able to connect with former employees, some of whom refused to share their story, feeling the oath of secrecy they took while working at GECO was just as valid today as it was during World War II.

Dickson’s patience and efforts have resulted in a fascinating read. I’ve been a Canadian history buff as long as I can remember, but I’d never heard of the GECO plant before seeing some of the promotional material for the book. Dickson’s experience as a writer (she’s also a novelist and journalist – which is where I connected with her) shines through. She deftly weaves the factual aspects of a military munitions factory with the personal stories of those whose daily lives revolved around making, what they thought, was a small contribution to the war effort.

Two aspects of the book disappointed me. The first was some repetition of facts, figures and quotes. While this was done to maintain the narrative and remind the reader of the importance of GECO’s work, I found it somewhat irritating

The other, which most people wouldn’t miss, was the lack of footnotes in the hard copy of the book. Dickson explains, in the book, that including the copious notes (the sign of a well-researched book) would have increased the book’s size and cost. Both she and the publisher (Dundurn) decided to post the notes online for those who wanted to reference them.

But those are minor points that shouldn’t detract from this wonderful look at a little-known episode in Canadian history. It’s well worth picking up and reading.


For more information on Bomb Girls: Trading Aprons for Ammo check http://www.barbaradickson.ca/

To listen to an interview with author Barb Dickson, tune in to Arts Connection Monday, January 11 at 9:30 p.m. ET on 94.3 Faith FM or listen to the simultaneous webcast at http://faithfm.org