Vatican Diaries

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Vatican Diaries

by John Thavis

As you know, I tend to not read very much but, every once in a while, I spot a title of interest while I am browsing around the Legislative Library of British Columbia. Sometimes I wonder why certain books are in their collection because I thought their focus was on the history, politics and governance of our province, our writers, poets, journalists, inventors, actors, millionaires etc. I am not sure how a book about the Vatican fits into that roster but, nonetheless, this book is a great find. It takes you on a behind the scenes field trip to learn about the personalities and politics at the heart of the Catholic Church.

I have been to the Vatican and I have toured the grounds and the interior areas to which the general public has access. This book, however, covers not only that common stuff, but it brings the reader into the bowels of the empire. I was going to say the heart of the empire, but in using bowels as a metaphor, you can sense where this review is going.

The author is an insider. He is a Vatican-based journalist with press privileges only accorded to a select few. He befriended priests and cardinals and future popes, journeymen and janitors, maids and mistresses, kooks and cooks. The lining is torn between traditionalists and modernists; on the sexual abuse scandal, the wool is over the eyes of the very people who have the power to act, even a pope or two, all believing this too shall pass! As we all know, the crap doesn’t pass and the bowel line gets plugged, badly plugged, and regardless of how much Pepto they swallow, the bulge just won’t go away.

Fear of wrath or excommunication or isolation feeds the higher hierarchy with extreme power and a strong worldwide following. Faith in the men of the cloth, even within the Vatican, leading the way to salvation and heaven, blinds them from believing anything could be amiss. Victims are wrong; research is wrong; the diaries of the perpetrators are wrong; confessions are wrong.

The Vatican empire grows and grows; it functions under a veil of secrecy and even the factions within the empire work in isolation and hold secrets from each other. It is almost like mini revolutions take place, with a punch here and there, silent treatment, cover-ups, questionable powers, abuse of powers, and mayhem, yet, the hoards of people who stand in line each and every day to visit the Vatican, to tour a small portion of the grounds and of the buildings, to buy the paraphernalia, to take the pictures, to spot the Pope – they have no inkling of the pain and sadness, the darkness and scariness of the working lives and personal lives of the people on the payroll – a payroll banked by the contributions of Catholics around the world, all so innocently ignorant. 

24 SussexDrive

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Written by

Linda Svendsen


The book takes an incredibly wonderful look into the backyards, nooks and crannies of life behind the scenes at both the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, Canada and the residence of our Governor General at Rideau Hall across the street.


The storylines come across as so real it is often hard to believe it is fiction. The characters have personality traits of various previous Prime Ministers and Governors General, and their respective family members. Their experiences, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes that are familiar to us, set you somewhere between the 1990s and 2012.


Ms. Svendsen does use satire and humour very well. She cross-dresses the main characters, settings and locations, in order to comply with the rules of fiction and maybe even to avoid defamation lawsuits. She even toys with the possibility of very savvy off-spring of both regal families, taking advantage of being within a world of privilege, orchestrating potentially damaging plans that result in becoming game pieces for both high level and low level cover-ups, schemes, blackmail and bribery.


24 Sussex and Rideau Hall have always been houses of curiosity and rumour to the locals and visitors alike. The novel flows well, reveals a lot about the adult and children residents of those homes and the stories are action-packed. It is one of those creative pieces that seems like it was written by a fly on the wall.


Ms. Svendsen allows us to imagine the possibilities to the point where we come out of the reading experience and wonder – how much of that was really false!


Life and Times of Craig Oliver

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Oliver's Twist by Canadian Journalist Craig Oliver


I seem to be on a bit of an upswing on reading currently. I had two books on the go at the same time over the past month. One was Lloyd Robertson’s The Kind of Life It’s Been and the other was this one Oliver’s Twist by Craig Oliver.  Both men are long time Canadian journalists who have loved their lives and loved their jobs as lifelong journalists in Canada.


Unlike Lloyd, Craig was a grassroots reporter, commentator, and host in the broadcasting business. He wined and dined with the interesting, the rich, the famous, and the troubled. He heralds from small town Prince Rupert and has never forgotten his roots, his beginnings, his challenges and his accomplishments. He was born into a poor and troubled family, the son of alcoholic parents, raised by foster parents on and off.


Despite the isolation of hiding behind a troubled upbringing, Craig remained optimistic about things getting better for his struggling mother while he continued to build a wonderful and adventurous life for himself. He kept in touch with her and held on to the faint hope that she would overcome the evils of alcoholism – that was one hope that was never to be. He experiences the warmth and wonder of real love and true love, passion and compassion from his special relationships with others – eventually getting married and having children, and living a life that his parents could never get to experience.


Despite his long time struggle with dealing with the impact of glaucoma, Craig Oliver knows how to read people and greet people of every socio-economic background, including Queens, Princesses, Princes, Dukes, Barons, Lords, Prime Ministers, Presidents, Members of Parliament, friends, colleagues, former teachers, and the average and not so average citizen. He has been around and he has seen virtually everything possible in a newsperson’s world from instability and infidelity, to referenda, elections, tragedies, wars, 911 and other emergencies, grief and loss as well as the excitement of Royal visits, the Olympics, and assignments on the international scene.


Craig also shares his memories of unforgettable adventures in the Canadian wilderness hiking, canoeing or camping with colleagues, former Prime Minister Trudeau, other politicians and colleagues, and with his son, Murray, who is a journalist working the beat in Uganda.


This book treats us to many interesting stories and tales of the personal and professional experiences of a hardworking, descent and determined man who has been in the broadcasting business for over forty years. I read every page and viewed every picture with considerable interest and heard myself saying, now and then, Thank you, Craig, for unravelling that mystery for me; thank you, Craig, for your honesty and candour; thank you, Craig, for putting pen to paper and sharing your life’s experiences with us.


This is a great book.

Life and Times of Lloyd Robertson

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The Kind of Life It's Been, by Canadian Broadcaster Lloyd Robertson


I had the distinct pleasure of reading Lloyd Robertson’s biography or memoir of his life as a lifelong broadcaster for the CBC and CTV. I enjoy reading about the life and times of key public figures and Lloyd, along with Craig Oliver and Harvey Kirk and Knowlton Nash and Pamela Wallin and Peter Mansbridge, fit that bill.


Lloyd has had a very interesting life and what makes it even more interesting and inspiring is that his roots would not lead one to believe he would be one to rise from the ashes and make something huge out of his life. He has a somewhat sad upbringing in that his mother was not mentally well and, subsequently, adversely impacted by a lobotomy.  It was not something people spoke about back then so you just created a wall between you and the outside world, and hoped that nobody would find out. Starting life without the warmth of compassion and emotion would normally lead to a dysfunctional life for the children, but certainly not with Lloyd. He recognized the deficiencies of his upbringing and worked with it to become a hardworking, compassionate and loving husband, father and grandfather, and a man committed to excellence in his work.


His Memoir highlights and defines his professional life with two major Olympic Games as bookends and the many, many major and minor news stories he presented to the listening public in addition to his 60 years in the Canadian broadcasting world.


I truly enjoyed reading Lloyd’s stories. I felt his commitment, compassion and emotion in his writing, and am very happy to hear he has had such a wonderful, enriching and rewarding personal and professional life.







Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope

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By Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly


Gabby is a story of stamina, courage and determination. It is about the life and times of the Arizona Congresswomen, Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in an ambush attack at a political campaign event in her State. Her chances of survival were slim, but she is not one to walk away from a challenge and that is what makes this story so incredibly rich, inspiring, passionate and moving. Practically half her head was shot off, part of her body paralyzed and she lost the ability to talk, walk, eat, drink or think on her own. She has not given up and will never give up. This book makes the reader feel a presence at the ambush, the rescue, the hospital, the rehab sessions, the family visits, the outings and in the memories of how things used to be.


Her husband, Mark Kelly, wrote this book and he does so with clarity, emotion and pride. He gives us insight into Gabby’s start in life as well as his, and takes us on the long journeys that eventually brought them together – her road from running the family tire business to become a politician and his pursuit of a childhood plan to become an astronaut. He complements Gabby’s inner strength to overcome the obstacles around her and ahead of her, and her undying faith in steady progress each and every day.


Albeit slow, steady progress is indeed what is happening … from identifying things, saying one word and then two, recognizing people, understanding conversations, doing rehab exercises and going out in public, Gabrielle Giffords is truly an amazing human being, an inspiration to all, and her husband is an amazing man, truly committed to for better or for worse, an honourable husband, loving father, brother, son and son-in-law.


I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was easy to read, to follow and to appreciate. Congratulations to Mark for coordinating his memories, sharing his thoughts and his feelings, and making us all see that life is short, we need to smell the roses even before they bloom to their fullest, and embrace and deal with all that life has to offer.