The Week: Tolls on the Fifth Street Bridge, and quieter coffee shops, please

The Week: Tolls on the Fifth Street Bridge, and quieter coffee shops, please

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Four people died every day in BC last year from a drug overdose. One hundred, twenty of them died in November, 13 percent more than last year. We lost 1,380 people in 2018. Two decades into the opioid epidemic and these numbers are still shocking.

The BC Corner reported that the numbers of deaths on the North Island went down from 38 to 25, but it doesn’t feel like something to celebrate. Especially not when Courtenay RCMP announced last month that they had seized a potentially lethal combination of drugs, including fentanyl, from a man who was still in custody.

Not one of last year’s drug-related deaths occurred at a safe consumption site. But, please, people, let’s stop calling these live-saving facilities “drug overdose prevention sites.” Even trained professionals supervising these sites cannot prevent someone from overdosing. They do not know what’s in the concoction someone injects. But they can, and do, prevent that person from dying of an overdose.

Two clever Decafnation readers have independently suggested the “perfect” solution to the City of Courtenay’s Fifth Street Bridge problem. The bridge desperately needs a renovation that’s expected to cost up to $6.3 million. The city doesn’t have that much laying around, and, anyway, why should Courtenay residents have to foot the whole bill when it’s used by a lot of people who don’t live there?

Our reader’s obvious solution: toll bridge.

At $2 per crossing, it would take 8,630 crossings per day for one year to pay the bill. Okay, so there’s lots of practical problems with this idea, but …

It only took a couple of days into 2019 to issue the year’s first boil water advisory for the Courtenay and Comox water system. It’s not a coincidence the advisory came after this week’s big rain events. But, of course, no one dares mention logging above Comox Lake in this discussion, or how restoring the watershed to a natural state could reduce the need for a $100 million dollar water treatment plant. Did you also notice the color of waters in the Courtenay River and K’omoks Estuary had turned Sediment Brown?

Some Cumberland die-hards started a New Year’s Day swim in Comox Lake this year, and the “my water was colder than your water” arguments have already heated up with the Goose Spit swimmers. Cumberlanders want bragging rights.

What they don’t have is a unique name. The Cumberland “Black Bear Dip” has been tossed out, but it’s kind of lame, right? A reference to the village’s coal history? Who knows. What name do you suggest?

If you weren’t that worried about climate change before, this might tip your scales. New research published in Nature Plants, a nature research journal, predicts climate change will cause a worldwide beer shortage.

According to the study, expected droughts and extreme temperatures will diminish barley crop yields by three percent to 17 percent. And since most barley goes to feed livestock, beer producers will get even less than a proportionate share of the declining yields.

That means the price of beer would double and global consumption would decline by about 16 percent. Consumption would decline by as much at 32 percent in some of the poorer countries, while more affluent countries might see less of an impact, according to the researchers.

And without beer or BC wine, what are Albertans going to drink?

We read this important New York Times article — ‘How to be a better person in 2019’ — so you don’t have to. Here’s our Cliff Notes summary: More sex and CBD, less screen time and consumer spending. 

When did Comox Valley coffee shops get so loud? Didn’t they used to be a place of quiet refuge, where someone could go for a moment of reflection? Not any more, and we blame the interior designers.

Not all coffee shops are noisy, but those that are have a particular style in common: sleek, hard surfaces, slate, shiny wood, and a noticeable absence of soft, sound-absorbing materials like tapestries or upholstery. The grinding and whistling of the espresso machines mix with a rattling of cups and human conversation to bounce around the room in a cacophony that is not just audibly annoying, it can become a barrier to thoughtful conversation.

Can we get back to coffee shops where you don’t have to shout to be heard and where you leave without a post-rock concert ringing in your ears?

 Happy New Year to the Decafnation. Spring is coming and the days are getting longer!



A. Murray MacKay Bridge
Ambassador Bridge
Angus L. Macdonald Bridge

Blue Water Bridge

Capilano Suspension Bridge
Confederation Bridge

Deh Cho Bridge

Fort Frances–International Falls International Bridge

Golden Ears Bridge
Gordie Howe International Bridge

Lewiston–Queenston Bridge

Ogdensburg–Prescott International Bridge
Olivier-Charbonneau Bridge

Peace Bridge
Port Mann Bridge

Rainbow Bridge (Niagara Falls)

Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge
Seaway International Bridge
Serge-Marcil Bridge

Thousand Islands Bridge

Whirlpool Rapids Bridge

Yukon Suspension Bridge

— Wikipedia


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Valley home values jump, but may not reflect market

Valley home values jump, but may not reflect market

By George Le Masurier

The property assessment notice that arrived in your mailbox this week may not reflect the real estate market, according to the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board (VIREB).

B.C. Assessment says the 2019 values reflect market movement and actual sales in any individual property owners neighborhood, in addition to the property’s amenities.

Assessor Tina Ireland say the majority of the Island’s residential homeowners can expect “increases up to 20 percent as compared to last year’s assessment.” BC Assessments estimate market value as of July 1 each year.

But in its annual year-end market review, the VIREB said the market has cooled off and pinned the price increase of single-family homes at 10 percent from December 2017.

In Comox, some homeowners have reported assessed value increases between 25 percent and 35 percent, even though BC Assessment said the average increase was 17 percent.

In Cumberland where average assessments rose 27 percent, the third highest on Vancouver Island, some individual properties must have increased by 35 percent or more.

Here’s how Comox Valley communities ranked in assessments:

Courtenay: Single-family homes increased an average of 17 percent, from $385,000 in 2017, to $450,000 in 2018.

Comox: Single-family homes increased an average of 17 percent, from $441,000 in 2017, to $517,000 in 2018.

Cumberland: Single-family homes increased an average of 27 percent, from $360,000 in 2017, to $460,000 in 2018.

Campbell River: Single-family homes increased an average of 16 percent, from $345,000 in 2017 to $401,000 in 2018.

The biggest assessment increase occurred in Sayward, where values jumped 44 percent to an average home value of $205,100. Tahsis increased by 30 percent to $99,600, followed by Ucluelet at 21 percent to $403,00 and Tofino at 19 percent to $767,000.

Parksville and Qualicum Beach had more modest value hikes, but still recorded double-digit increases of 11 percent and 13 percent respectively.

The VIREB annual review said, “Despite lower demand, however, year-over-year benchmark prices of single-family homes continue to rise board-wide, up 10 per cent from December 2017.”

The board said decreased demand and additional inventory has turned a sellars’ market into a balanced or near-balanced market. Single-family home sales dropped 19 percent from 2017.



“My assessment has gone up 40%, I can’t afford for my taxes to go up 40%!”

A common misconception is that a significant change in your assessed value will result in a proportionately significant change in your property taxes. The most important factor is not how much your assessed value has changed, but how your assessed value has changed relative to the average change for your property class in your municipality or taxing jurisdiction.

Learn more about how a change in your assessed value may impact your property taxes.

— B.C. Assessment




Once property tax rates have been set by your local taxing authority, property owners are unable to appeal the tax rate. Property owners are able to appeal their assessed value, which forms one part of the property tax equation described above, to the Property Assessment Review Panel. The deadline for appealing your assessed value is the last working day in January each year, typically January 31st. You can visit our website to see more information on appealing your assessment.

— B.C. Assessment


Sponging up the rain, taxing impervious surfaces — what other communities are doing

Sponging up the rain, taxing impervious surfaces — what other communities are doing

By George Le Masurier

This is the sixth in a series of articles about how urban stormwater runoff has negatively impacted Comox Valley waterways, what local governments are doing to address the issues and what other communities have done.


Urban development in the Comox Valley has fundamentally altered the natural water balance. As impervious surfaces like roads, parking lots and buildings replaced vegetated land, the opportunity for rain water to soak into the ground or return to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration diminished.

To prevent flooding, Valley municipalities have relied on expensive engineered infrastructure, such as curb, getters and stormwater pipes, to divert rainwater into area creeks and streams, and sometimes directly into the K’omoks Estuary.

Along the way, that rain water has picked up oil, grease and engine coolants, copper from vehicle brakes, zinc from vehicle tires, animal feces and a variety of other contaminants that in some cases have killed all aquatic life in our waters and threatened public health.

Polluted stormwater regularly causes the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to ban shellfish harvesting in Baynes Sound (as it did in November), and for the Capital Regional District to declare waters at certain Victoria-area beaches a possible health risk (as it did on Dec. 29).

Municipalities around the world have moved toward systems that rely less on “grey” infrastructure and more on “green “infrastructure that attempts to mimic nature.

It also costs less. Curb, gutters and pipes create long-term, unfunded liabilities for taxpayers to repair and replace. The Comox Valley alone has hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded infrastructure liabilities.

So, every community is looking for innovative stormwater solutions. Here are some of them.


The City of Victoria introduced a stormwater utility in 2016 to accomplish two goals: one, to fund its ongoing expense of replacing and repairing stormwater pipes; and, two, to encourage property owners to manage their own rainwater where it falls.

Before 2016, Victoria included stormwater fees in property taxes and based the charge on a property’s assessed value. Now, property owners pay fees based on the amount of rainwater estimated to run off their property.

In other words, the more impervious surfaces that cover a property and the fewer source control measures implemented — rain gardens, pervious pavers, etc. — the more a homeowner will pay.

“The stormwater utility is a funding model similar to how we fund water and sanitary services,” Brianne Czypyha, the city’s stormwater management specialist, told Decafnation. “The city uses the stormwater utility because it’s a more equitable user-pay system that bases the fees on the impact a property has on the system.”

Czypyha said grey infrastructure will always be an integral part of managing runoff in the city, but integrating green infrastructure will help build capacity of the system and improve the quality of stormwater runoff discharged into the environment. Using source controls is voluntary, for now, but not using them will cost property owners more.

“While the direction we have chosen is to use incentives to encourage the use of green infrastructure, particularly for retrofitting existing buildings,” Czypyha said. “I definitely see value in requiring new developments to meet more stringent rainwater management requirements.”

Richmond, BC, also has a stormwater utility, and it’s a common practice throughout Washington, Oregon and California.

“We’re aware of the problem, so why would we wait for someone else to tell us to fix it?”


Capital Regional District

The municipalities of Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay have signed on to a multi-jurisdictional, multi-stakeholder 100-year watershed management plan for Bowker Creek. The plan identifies places to daylight and naturalize the creek.

“The plan is to move Bowker Creek back to a more natural stream, as opportunities arise,” Glenn Harris told Decafnation. Harris is the CRD’s senior manager for environmental protection and the Bowker Creek Initiative spokesperson.

Bird life and bio-diversity around the creek is already coming back, Harris said, especially around Oak Bay High School where a $750,000 grant restored and naturalized the creek, increased native plantings and created a creek-focused curriculum at the school.

“It provides an opportunity to restore islands of nature within the urban environment,” he said.


Elsewhere in Canada

Kitchener, Ontario has taken a direct action approach to stormwater management. For more than a year, the city has required all new development to capture the first 12.5 millimetres of rain — about a half-inch — every time it rains.

The rule applies to subdivisions, commercial buildings and even city-owned roads. It means that except for major storm events, all rain water must be managed onsite, and no water would reach stormwater pipes or ponds.

Kitchener took the action ahead of anticipated new provincial stormwater regulations based on its own climate change study that predicted a 20 percent increase in rainfall.

“We’re aware of the problem, so why would we wait for someone else to tell us to fix it?,” the city’s stormwater manager Nick Gollan told a Kitchener newspaper. “We should be putting strategies in place to adapt to the changes that are taking place.”

The City of Langley has created a Department of Green Infrastructure Services. It has standardized rain gardens instead of traditional curbs and gutters on all non-arterial roads.

Since 2009, the City of Toronto has required green roofs on all commercial, institutional and residential developments with a minimum floor area of 2,000 square metres (appx. 21,500 square feet), this includes any additions to buildings that increase the floor area to the minium.


Outside of Canada

Portland, Oregon has been the acknowledged leader of stormwater management regulations for more than two decades. It started in 1993 with a downspout disconnection program.

But since 1999, Portland’s Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan has required source control on any new redeveloped properties that add more than 500 square feet of impervious surface. That means property owners must manage and treat all the runoff from impervious surfaces with green infrastructure — rain gardens, green roofs, soaker trenches, drywell, pervious pavers, etc. — and in some cases may be required to install underground treatment devices to remove pollutants.

Now, other cities are catching up.

The City of Philadelphia is in the seventh year of a 25-year project to “detain it (rainwater), not convey it.” The city has committed $2.4 billion to recreate in the urban streetscape the kinds of pervious places where, instead of running into surrounding waterways, rainfall and the contaminants it carries can once again soak into and be cleaned by the earth.

Berlin, Germany adopted a Sponge City Strategy in 2017 to mitigate both heat and flooding problems expected to intensify with climate change. The goal is to increase the amount of surfaces within the city that allow water to soak into the ground and release it gradually, rather than a sudden rush into waterways, and more urban vegetation that cools the air through evaporation.

The manager of Berlin’s project says, “The key is to avoid sealing up too much of the ground surface with concrete or tarmac. Wherever possible, we want water-permeable surfaces.”

Berlin’s strategy borrows the term “sponge city” from a 2013 Chinese initiative that proclaimed urban areas should act like sponges, based on the work of landscape architect Kongjian Yu.

Yu’s motto for rainwater management is: retain, adapt, slow down and reuse. Others have since modified that slogan as: sink it, slow it, reuse it and move it.


Educational opportunities

The best educators have long-ago incorporated curriculum about the environment and, more recently, about climate change.

More than 30 years ago, Barry Thornton, the former principal of Brooklyn Elementary School in Comox, was a pioneer in teaching young students about conservation and the environment in general. Thornton was a advocate for the restoration of Brooklyn Creek and initiated several fish habitat improvement projects near the school.

B.C. Adventure photo

He was also a co-founder of the schools Salmonids in the Classroom program that acquainted children with the life cycle of salmon and other aquatic life.

Today, students from elementary schools to high schools all over the globe are learning about the hydrological cycle, water balance and the need for better solutions to stormwater management. A quick search of the Internet brings up stormwater education programs from Kentucky to Rhode Island to Mississauga, Ontario.

The City of Mississauga has a stormwater outreach team that does presentations in K-12 classrooms that covers topics such as municipal stormwater management, water conservation, low-impact development and water quality and environmental health.

Students at Arcata High School in Humboldt County, Calif., recently started a project to create rain gardens around campus parking lots after an Environmental Science class found a high level of pollutants in the nearby Jolly Giant Creek.

In Kingston, Ontario, the city’s Fish and Frogs Forever program talks with local students about how polluted stormwater impacts local aquatic ecosystems and what they can do to reverse the negative effects.


What is the future?

Environmentalists and conservationists want improved stormwater regulations to happen quickly. But Brianne Cyzypyha, stormwater specialist at the City of Victoria, says that change in stormwater management is a multi-year, complex process, requiring involvement from many internal departments, and also feedback from experts and the public.

“In terms of the way forward, I see most municipalities as similar to a large ship changing course. It can be a bit of a slow process making changes to the old ways of doing business,” she said.








What to know more about the Sponge City concept?

This article describes modern stormwater management tools: sink it, slow it, reuse it and move it.

This article describes landscape architect Kongjian Yu who coined the term “sponge cities.”

This link takes you to Philadelphia’s guide for retrofitting properties to the city’s new stormwater regulations.




Bioswales — A stormwater conveyance system similar, but larger than a rain garden (see below).

Evaporation — As water is heated by the sun, surface molecules become sufficiently energized to break free of the attractive force binding them together, and then evaporate and rise as invisible vapour in the atmosphere.

Green infrastructure — Any natural or built system that provides ecological benefits and help to maintain pre-development hydrology. It encompasses natural features like streams, wetlands, forests and parks, as well as engineered systems that manage urban runoff.

Groundwater — Subterranean water is held in crack and pore spaces. Depending on the geology, the groundwater can flow to support streams. It can also be tapped by wells. Some groundwater is very old and may have been there for thousands of years.

Hydrologic cycle — The endless circulation of water. From the beginning of time when water first appeared, it has been constant in quantity and continuously in motions. The same water molecules have been transferred time and time again from the oceans and the land into the atmosphere by evaporation, dropped on the land as precipitation and transferred back to the sea by rivers and ground water.

Low-impact development (LID) — The systems and practices that use or mimic natural processes that result in the infiltration, evapotranspiration or use of stormwater in order to protect water quality and associated aquatic habitat.

Rain garden — A miniature wetland in a residential setting, lower than the adjacent grade to collect rainwater from roofs, driveways or streets, thus allowing infiltration into the ground.

Runoff — Excessive rain or snowmelt can produce overland flow to creeks and ditches. Runoff is visible flow of water in rivers, creeks and lakes as the water stored in the basin drains out.

Transpiration — Water vapour is also emitted from plant leaves by a process called transpiration. Ever day an actively growing plant transpires five to 10 times as much water as it can hold at once.





Hanukkah: celebrating the promise of hope in dark times

BY RABBI SETH GOLDSTEIN onight marks the beginning of Hanukkah, that eight-day celebration when we bring light into the darkness by lighting the menorah each night.The story of Hanukkah is retold and well known—the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) lead a...

Morrison Creek headwaters are unique on Vancouver Island

The Comox Valley Lands Trust is “this close” to conserving a small portion of the unique Morrison Creek headwaters, but has its sights on protecting the entire oasis of swamps, ponds and marshes. A conservation area the size of Stanley Park.

These environment stories from 2018 could give us hope

These environment stories from 2018 could give us hope

Perseverance Creek  |  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Climate science reports released in 2018 all pointed to impending catastrophes unless humankind can pull off some miraculous reversal of climatological trends and its own bad behavior.

In just the last year, huge wildfires raged out of control, Antarctica lost three trillion more tonnes of ice, extreme heat waves warned of an eventual Hothouse Earth by 2040 and droughts and intense storms have become commonplace. Climate change could even cause a global beer shortage.

But not all the environment news in 2018 was depressing. There was good news to savor, some of it originating right here at home.

Comox Valley

The Comox Valley Lands Trust is purchasing a 55-acre parcel at the top of Morrison Creek, and announced plans to eventually acquire and conserve the waterway’s entire 550-acre headwaters. This is important for a variety of reasons: Morrison Creek has lively and thriving aquatic life, including several salmon species, it feeds the Puntledge River and the K’omoks Estuary and it’s the only stream in the valley whose headwaters remain intact (undeveloped) and pristine.

The Cumberland Forest Society is currently negotiating to preserve another 93 hectares (230 acres) of the Cumberland Forest, mostly wetlands and key riparian areas along Perseverance Creek. Since it formed in 2000, the society has conserved 110 hectares (271 acres).

Aerial view of some of the Morrison Creek headwaters — photo courtesy of the Comox Valley Lands Trust

On Dec. 19, the Comox Valley Lands Trust announced that Father Charles Brandt had signed a covenant to conserve his 27-acre Hermitage on the Oyster River. The covenant means the property “will be protected in perpetuity for the benefit of all things wild.” Brandt has told Decafnation he intends to donate his property to the Comox Valley Regional District as an undeveloped public park.

In a process mired in missteps and lawsuits, the CVRD finally denied an application by the 3L Development company that would have created more urban sprawl, increased long-term infrastructure liabilities for taxpayers and despoiled a critical area. But an outstanding lawsuit means this story isn’t over.

The Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC and the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society completed an Ecological Accounting Process document, which shows the value of the waterway to the Town of Comox for stormwater conveyance. It’s the first EAP in BC on a creek flowing through multiple jurisdictions, and shows how all stakeholders must have a common goal in order to prevent the death of another fish-bearing stream.

Many of the candidates who sought public office this fall — and most who were elected — endorsed the passage of new development policies that permit and encourage infill development. This is important to minimize urban sprawl, and maximize utilization of existing infrastructure, thus preserving more rural areas and natural ecological systems.

Thanks to Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley, more people know the serious health hazards of poor air quality caused by particulates in smoke from wood burning devices. And local governments are responding with bands on wood burning devices in new homes and incentives to eliminate or upgrade existing ones.

Pacific Northwest

The sad sight of a mother orca carrying a dead calf around for weeks, as if to show humans what tragedies they are inflicting on the Earth’s other inhabitants, has sparked some positive change. Just not in BC, yet. Gov. Jay Inslee struck a task force that has recommended steps for orca recovery and the governor has earmarked over a billion dollars for the plan, which includes a ban on whale-watching tourism.

British Columbians got a sniff last summer of what climate change means for our future. One of the worst wildfire summers blanketed the south coast with smoke, haze and hazardous air quality. And with summers getting hotter and drier (it’s not just your imagination), wildfires will increase. It’s another step — albeit an unfortunate one — to wider spread public acknowledgement of climate change and the urgency of initiatives to maintain and improve our air quality.

The NDP government adopted a climate action plan this year calls for more electric vehicles and charging stations, requires all new buildings to be net-zero energy ready by 2032, diverts organic waste and other recyclables from landfills, while boosting the carbon tax and producing more hydroelectric power. It’s been criticized as being “just talk” and not going far enough, but the plan at least provides a blueprint for future climate action policies provincially and federally.


Green energy is on the rise around the world. We had the largest annual increase in global renewable generation capacity in 2017 (most recent data), accounting for 70 percent of all additions to global power capacity. New solar photovoltaic capacity outsripped additions in coal, natural gas and nuclear power combined. As of 2016, renewable energy accounted for 18.2 percent of global total final energy consumption (most recent data), and modern renewables representing 10.4 percent.

Brooklyn Creek flows into Comox Bay — George Le Masurier photo

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development thinks that global economic growth has peaked. They worry about the slowdown, but it’s good news for the planet. That’s the view of the new Degrowth movement, a theory that first world countries should plan for economic contraction in order to achieve a just and sustainable world.

Carbon emissions are declining, according to BP’s statistical review of world energy. Ukraine showed the greatest decline in 2017 of around 10 percent, due to dramatic reduction in coal usage. Unfortunately, Canada was one of the worst nations (22nd). Canada actually increased emissions by 3.4 percent, contributing the ninth largest share of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere behind China, the US and Japan.

Community-based renewable energy projects lead the way in reducing greenhouse gases both in Canada and around the world. Scotland’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) provides communities, businesses and other organizations advice and funding to create local and community energy projects. And, even the province of Alberta has a Community Generation Program for small-scale ventures into wind, biomass, hydro and solar.

And here’s a video that shows more reasons for hope. The question is, are we moving fast enough? And what more could we do?








International Panel on Climate Change
Click here

Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Click here

Global Carbon Project
Click here

National Climate Assessment
Click here

Renewables 2018 Global Status Report
Click here

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
High uncertainty weighing on global growth
Click here

Click here

BP statistical review of World Energy 2018
Click here

Community-based renewable energy projects
Click here and here

The story of 2018 was climate change
Click here



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The Decafnation lists its favorite books read in 2018

The Decafnation lists its favorite books read in 2018

By George Le Masurier

Each year on Jan. 1, Decafnation presents its annual collective book report. Thanks to everyone who took the time to share micro-reviews of books they enjoyed in last year. You can read previous year’s recommendations here.

Kathy Gilland DuperronWomen Who Dig: Farming, Feminism and the Fight to Feed the World by Trina Moiyles of Alberta. — Ms Moyles travelled to six different countries and interviewed women who dig (garden, farm) in order to feed their families. We meet brave, hard-working women around the world. Canada, the US, Uganda, Cuba and more. Women outside North America get the most they can in order to feed their families and if they sell some products their children may be able to go to school. This is a book filled with hope, the opposite of what we are generally hearing and reading in the news.

Anne BakerThe Boat People by Sharon Bala — “When a rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and 500 fellow refugees from Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war reaches Vancouver’s shores, the young father thinks he and his six-year-old son can finally start a new life. Instead, the group is thrown into a detention processing center, with government officials and news headlines speculating that among the “boat people” are members of a separatist militant organization responsible for countless suicide attacks—and that these terrorists now pose a threat to Canada’s national security” — review excerpt taken from Goodreads.

Brad MorganThe Library Book by Susan Orlean — This is every bookworm’s dream read, said a reviewer and it’s true. If you love books, you’ll love this book. It’s actually a tribute to libraries via an arson investigation and filled with real-life characters and stories so unexpected, they feel like they’ve been misshelved from the fantasy section. It’s starts out about the 1986 fire that destroyed 400,000 books at the Los Angeles Central Library, and that becomes Orlean’s excuse to introduce the eccentric who’d been the city’s first librarian, a successor who walked from Ohio to L.A. to claim the post.

Robert MooreLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders — An initially baffling, wild, creative and surprising book. Second choice, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Hamid — Evocative and interesting voice.

Charles ShelanPachinko by Min Jin Lee, and the Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish.

Sarah SeitzA Little Life by Hanya Yanaguhara — I loved this tale of four young men navigating friendship and trauma. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Also enjoyed Educated by Tara Westover — a memoir about her life growing up with survivalists in rural Idaho.

Meredith Wright HutchinsCircling the Sun by Paula McLain — This book is One of my favorites. It’s an biographical fiction and I was into the book before I realized Beryl Markham was an actual person. I was equally surprised to learn that one of her friends, Karen Blixen, was the character played by Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. The book is set in British East Africa in the early 1900’s. Beryl was, among other things, a race horse trainer and pilot at a time when those were not vocations for women.

Helena SpearsThe Winters: a reboot of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca — It has great characters, and plot twists. If you enjoyed the original, you will enjoy this one too. A quick, fun read.

Jim LewisWashington Black by Esi Edugyan — This third novel by a Vancouver Island writer offers a unique spin on the traditional slave narrative. Its protagonist, known as Wash, is an 18-year-old freeman looking back on a childhood spent in bondage and on the unlikely events that allowed him to escape a Barbados sugar plantation in a hot-air balloon and travel from Virginia to the Arctic to Europe while blossoming into an accomplished artist and scientist.

Ramon MartinezRiding the Continent by Hamilton Mack Laing, with an introduction by Richard Mackie, edited by Trevor Marc Hughes — Hamilton Mack Laing was an illustrious early British Columbia writer and naturalist. But few know him as how he described himself in his mid-thirties: a motorcycle-naturalist. For several years beginning in 1914, Laing used the motorcycle to access the natural world, believing it gave him a distinct advantage over other forms of transportation. During this period in his life he would take on a transcontinental journey, riding across the United States from Brooklyn to Oakland in 1915. His previously unpublished manuscript of this journey has been hidden away for nearly a century.

Peter JacobsonThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood — A World War II–era family drama turns into a story within a story, within a story — as well as a mystery, a thriller, and a tract on the politics of love, passion, and betrayal. It’s brilliantly written, sharp as a blade, and completely engrossing.

Ken AdneyThe Johnstown Flood by David McCullough — I love everything else I’ve read by him. Also, McLuhan for Beginners (one of the For Beginners series).
Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw (just because people keep talking about him). Jacobs’ Dimensions of Moral Theory (more meta arguments than how to). Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (loved her essays). William Gass The World Within The Word (few writers write so well about writing)

Dan Vie — I generally read no fiction except for an occasional folktale. However, I re-read the Lord of the Rings after several decades, just because the narrative feels topical in this political climate. It is a gorgeous and engrossing read. Tolkien was masterful at crafting a sense of physical environment – the journey takes them through so many uniquely illustrated spaces, and it’s vivid.

Gloria J. BalazsBecoming by Michelle Obama — A great book. Predictable, but warmly entertaining. Loved it!

Robert MarshallAsymmetry by Lisa Halliday — Shortly after 9/11, a young woman working in New York City publishing enters into a romantic relationship with a famous older Jewish novelist. But the book’s second half changes everything, which I won’t reveal and spoil it for you.

Jessie Kerr — Sapiens (a brief history of humankind) by Yuval Harari –This book was difficult to put down. It caused me to reconsider my beliefs, attitudes and bias. I think it is a must read for thinkers. Also I’m Right and You’re an Idiot by James Hoggan. I heard him at the Denman Island book fest. A thoughtful discourse on the toxic state of public discourse. Another must read.

Richard ClarkeHow China’s Leaders Think by RL Kuhn — an informative insight into the machinations of the CCP leadership and China’s dramatic change over past 40 years.

Mary LangWomen Talking by Miram Toews — A small masterpiece. Launching off of a (tragically) true story, Toews explores the many powerful shades of resistance and witness in the wake of oppression and violation.







Blue Heron Books
1775 Comox Ave., Comox


Laughing Oyster Books
286 Fifth St., Courtenay


Nearly New Books
1761 Comox Ave., Comox


Second Page Used Books
546 Duncan Ave., Courtenay


Driftwood Mall, Courtenay


North Island College Bookstore
2300 Ryan Road, Courtenay


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