Author Archive

KfC — a transition

April 9, 2016

Dear Friends of KfC,

This is MrsKfC, and I would first like to thank everyone for the heartfelt, gracious comments on this blog in response to Trevor’s touching post announcing the death of my beloved husband, KevinfromCanada. Your tributes were so comforting to our family and friends, and helped us understand the impact this blog has had.

Several people said that although they felt they knew Kevin very well from his blog, they didn’t know what he looked like, and wished they had had a chance to meet him. So, here is a picture of the KfCs in the best of times:

The KfCs: Sheila and Kevin


And to hear what Kevin sounded like, please click here.

This is from CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers, an esteemed journalist in Canada, who followed this blog for its whole life. She is a fantastic person, and a good friend of the KfCs, but more importantly, an advocate for and supporter of Canadian literature. In this piece broadcast in 2011, she and Kevin explore the origin of the blog, and his thoughts about Canlit in general.

And for those people who said they wished they had met Kevin, I will tell you about him.

He was brilliant. He had an astonishing memory, and retained everything he ever heard or read. He was generous of spirit, and took everyone as he found them. He always looked for the best in people, and his default setting was to believe they were well intentioned and ethically motivated. He was very generous.

Most of you know the story about the Hudson’s Bay blanket he sent to Dovegrey Reader in the UK. When he told me about it, I wasn’t really surprised, as he was always giving of his time and his treasure.

He loved sending people books, especially if they had young children. He spent a long time thinking about the exact right books for people, and ordered nicely bound hard cover editions to be sent to them.

He sponsored several artists who were struggling by providing “loans” to them so they could finish something that was important to them. When they offered to repay  him, he asked them to pay it forward some time with someone else.

He mentored countless people, during his career and after, and always cheered for them to succeed.

He was non-judgemental and kind. When we had our horse racing business, there was a rogue named Jake the Rake who hung around at the track. He was a mooch of epic proportions, and knew Kevin was a soft touch. Kevin put him on an allocation of four beers a night so Jake would go away and stop interfering with his handicapping.  When Jake got too obnoxious (his speciality), Kevin would fine him by suspending his beer for two or three nights. Jake took his suspension very well, and on the stroke of the minute the suspension was lifted he would be back, and Kevin would pony up again. This cycle repeated itself for years. The truth is, Jake was an alcoholic whose life was seriously off the rails. Kevin recognized that Jake needed someone to be kind to him, and never judged him or tried to “fix” him. He bought him four beers a night. That’s how he was.

Kevin had a wonderful sense of humor, and could be very goofy. Whenever I went to the grocery store, the rubbish bin, to China or hiking in the Rockies, he would always mimic Vera Lynne and warble “I’ll Be Seeing You” as I left. His singing voice was brutal, but that didn’t matter.  I loved that.

He was always very proud of my accomplishments, and supported me in every way in every endeavor.

His illness was a nightmare. For 17 months he suffered every single day. He never once complained, and was brave and dignified throughout. When he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, he said two things:

  • “I will never mourn for the life I don’t get to live. I’ll be happy for the great life I have lived.”
  •  “This is going to be hard, Sheila. Above all, we have to be dignified.”

That was KevinfromCanada. He was very modest, and he would be gobsmacked by all the accolades, the tributes and the outpouring of affection.

As for me, I am so privileged to have been MrsKfC for 40 years, and I am grateful to have this forum to pay tribute to Kevin, and to give you a sense of who he was.

He loved this blog. I know he would have wanted it to continue to be a place where people can come and have genuine conversations about books that really matter. I am thrilled that this blog will continue under the leadership of three of KFC’s favorite people: Trevor Berrett, whose own blog Mookse and the Gripes you probably all know; Kim Forrester, who you also know from her blog Reading Matters; and Alison Gzowski, a gifted editor, friend of KfC and expert on Canadian literature.

These three friends are all members of the last Shadow Giller jury Kevin selected, and I know he would be thrilled to hand over KevinfromCanada to their keeping. I look forward to watching this blog thrive in its new life, and I know Kevin would too.

With love,

Mrs KfC.


Dear Friends

April 1, 2016

Dear friends of KevinfromCanada,

This is Trevor Berrett from The Mookse and the Gripes blog. I’m so sad and heavy-hearted to let you know that, after a lengthy illness, Kevin passed away on Wednesday evening. We will miss his enthusiasm, his intelligence, and his kindness. I know many of you have already heard the news, and words of sadness, love, and appreciation have been flowing.

I first ran into Kevin back in 2008 on the now defunct Man Booker Prize forum. He dove into those conversations with gusto, unafraid to voice his opinion and push others to articulate theirs as well. He loved to read and to talk about books. I was just starting my blog, my career, and my family, and Kevin befriended me and encouraged and supported me in every aspect. Though he was the one experiencing physical pain and eventually fighting cancer, he was always upbeat, clever, funny, and amiable, even when pushing me out of my comfort zone.

I was excited when Kevin started his own blog — this one — in January 2009. Because he had already become a part of the community, there were many welcoming voices, thrilled that Kevin had his own platform we could come to for steady and solid conversations about books. He didn’t let us down, posting over 500 reviews here in the next few years. Looking back at his first review just now, a review of Patrick McCabe’s The Holy City, I chuckled when I saw the first comment from his lovely wife, Sheila:

I am Kevin’s wife, and am much relieved to see that he has been “pursuing his joy” and blogging about great literature. I was a little afraid he was a drug dealer, or perhaps running some hedge fund from his computer, given all the time he has devoted to his workstation.

Imagine my relief — I can certainly relate to how Harold Nicholson must have felt.

Sheila frequently commented to encourage Kevin and to befriend his readers.

On this blog and through private correspondence, Kevin engaged lovingly and passionately with the online reading community. For me, relationships with people like Kevin, that are deeply meaningful regardless of the miles between our homes, are the best parts of having an online book community. The books are great, but it’s sharing them that really counts.

To that end, not long after I met Kevin he started sending me books by Canadian authors. I am not the only person to receive such a package from Canada. Kevin was proud of his country’s literature, and he introduced me to many authors I’ve been following ever since. Soon he invited me to join him, Alison Gzowski, and Kim Forrester on the Shadow Giller Jury, giving me the wonderful opportunity to engage with Canadian literature and, even better, discuss it with the group.

I’m thankful he was my friend for the past eight years. He’s been a force for good in my life and in the book blogging community, touching many of us through genuine friendship that went beyond the books themselves. I will miss him.

Below are some words from other people Kevin befriended and supported, often with but not limited to wonderful discussions about books.

Alison Gzowski: I met Kevin (and his wonderful wife Sheila) for the first time in Chester, Nova Scotia. They were friends of my father and his partner and I’d heard so much about them that I would have been intimidated . . . but in minutes somehow Kevin mentioned that he’d read and loved Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I don’t think anyone else there had even heard of that book and we were off to the races, starting a reading friendship that is decades old. And it was more than just reading of course, though his passion for reading opened up worlds to me. He was a wise advisor, a helpful friend and great company. Even when what he said took me by suprise. Once about three years or so ago I went to Iceland and somehow boarded in Toronto and landed in Reykjavik with a passport that had expired six years earlier. After the airport police released me, I had to go to the Canadian embassy and apply for a document so I would be able to fly home eventually. The woman there, named Elizabeth, sat me in her office and said I had to get four people to vouch for me over the phone. I called Kevin first. I told him the problem, passed the receiver to  Elizabeth who put him on speaker phone. She asked how we knew each other (through my dad, but now the Giller). What I did for a living. Check. Then asked him to describe me physically. “Well, you can tell that she doesn’t go to a gym, and she looks like she doesn’t believe in hair salons.” Once again he nailed it!

Kim Forester: I never met Kevin personally, but I felt like I knew him. We often exchanged emails about books we’d read or ones to look out for, but our online friendship went beyond literature: he used to provide excellent career advice when my own journalistic career went through a few bumps in the road. His wisdom and kindness always shone through, and he was always very encouraging. I imagine he would have been inspiring to work for. It was through Kevin that I discovered an interest in Canadian literature. When he asked me to participate in the Shadow Giller Prize in 2011 I was honoured and delighted: it promptly became the highlight of my reading year. I will particularly miss Kevin’s blog. His reviews were insightful, erudite and forthright, and I have him to blame for an ever-growing pile of novels I bought on his recommendation. The book blogging world won’t be the same without him.

Linda Grant: Kevin was a man after my own heart, a journalist with an enormous love of and understanding of literature. He read to understand, to make sense of, and of course for pleasure, but with his newsman’s ear he seemed to sort through the rubbish and find what was worthwhile. I only met him once, when I was speaking at the Calgary literature festival. We spent an entertaining few hours in his study where he mined me for information about the literary scene in Britain. He was confined to a small space but commanded everywhere with his intelligence and curiosity.

Max Cairnduff: Kevin’s was one of the first voices I started to follow online in the world of literary blogging. He wrote with all the skill and insight you’d expect of a veteran newsman, and with a warmth and sense of humour that made him an essential read. Conversations with Kevin inspired me to start my own literary blog, and I know he did the same for others. Those blogs he inspired in turn helped inspire a few more, which makes Kevin part of them too. His words continue to ripple out, inspiring people in some cases who never read him but whose own efforts have been encouraged by those who were first encouraged by Kevin. Kevin helped introduce me to Rocky Mountain Cuisine and to a wealth of great literature. He was a fine and good man and will be much missed.

Lee Monks: Kevin was a fantastic guy. His excellent blog was always a great place to find things to add to the TBR pile, and I always looked forward to another of his affable, pellucid reviews. You felt his love for literature in the reviews of books he didn’t like as much as those he did; he always managed to suggest sadness that he couldn’t be more positive about something. There seems to be fewer and fewer people as passionate as Kevin was about literature. His example is there to be followed, and I hope there are enough willing to follow it. I had fun corresponding with Kevin intermittently, on all manner of subjects. But the turn of all conversations always veered back to books, of course. He had 4,000 of them in his basement; I wish I’d wandered around in there with him just once, and I’ll always regret never meeting him, but it was privilege enough to know I could email him from time to time and get the usual generous response. He will be sadly missed by an enormous number of people, which tells its own story. Thank you, Kevin.

The 2015 Shadow Giller winner is…

November 8, 2015

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…Martin John, by Anakana Schofield.

First a note on this year’s judging. I sampled all five short list titles but my medical condition meant I finished none and did not take part in the balloting. Again this year, each juror was given 100 points to disperse and here were the results:

Kim — Archibald 40, Schofield 35, Cusk 10, O’Neill 9, Alexis 6

Alison — Schofield 24, Alexis 20, Cusk 20, Archibald 19, O’Neill 17

Trevor — O’Neill 30, Schofield 25, Cusk 20, Archibald 15, Alexis 10

Totals: Schofield 84, Archibald 74, O’Neill 56 , Cusk 50, Alexis 36

My observation would be that it was an evenly matched bunch, with no one title rising above the others. We opted to go with the Schofield because both Trevor and Kim said they were happy with it as a choice.

You can find Kim’s full review here — here’s an excerpt that I think captures her thoughts:

If I’m making the book sound a bit oppressive, I don’t mean to. The serious nature of the crimes committed here (none of which, by the way, are ever trivialised) are lightened by humour. The prose is ripe with witty remarks and ridiculously funny, if absurd, situations, so much so that you can’t help but feel a little empathy for Martin John. Yes, he’s manipulative, yes, he’s a liar, yes, he harms others, but somewhere along the line you realise it could all be stopped if he received the right treatment, for Martin John is not normal.

And Trevor had this to say: I wouldn’t mind if this one won, and it battled for the first spot on my own list. On the one hand, it was the most compelling read, and the compulsion to keep reading was helped by the streamlined style as we go through the fragmented thoughts of a sexual offender and those who must associate with him.

With that, we turn things over to the Real Jury. They have shown a taste for the experimental in their choices so far — who knows how that will play out next Tuesday.

2015 Giller Prize shortlist

October 5, 2015

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Here’s the official Giller Prize shortlist for this year:

  • Fifteen Dogs, by Andre Alexis
  • Arvida , by Samuel Archibald
  • Outline, by Rachel Cusk
  • Daydreams of Angels, by Heather O’Neill
  • Martin John, by Anakana Schofield
  • The Shadow Jury doesn’t have much to say about the choice: except for Kim’s reading of Fifteen Dogs (which she didn’t like at all) and Alison’s reading of Outline (which she liked), none of us have read the other three. I’m a bit surprised to see two short story collections, Archibald and O’Neill.

    Now the serious work begins for the Shadow Jury. I’m hoping to get to the entire shortlist.

    Kimbofo reviews Fifteen Dogs

    September 28, 2015

    12015 AlexisKimbofo has kicked off her Giller reading this year with Fifteen Dogs, Andre Alexis’ novel. Here is the opening of her review — you can get the full version here:

    André Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs has been longlisted for this year’s Giller Prize. It’s by far the oddest, and possibly most absurd, book I’ve read in a long while. Indeed, to say I didn’t much like it might be an understatement.

    Under normal circumstances, I’m sure I would have abandoned this strange and unusual novella. But as some of you will no doubt know, every year since 2011 I have taken part in the Shadow Giller — chaired by KevinfromCanada — in which a group of us read and review all the books on the Giller Prize longlist for that year. Between the four of us, we then choose a winner in advance of the real Giller. (You can read more about how the Shadow Giller came about on Kevin’s blog here.) And because I’m taking part in the process once again for 2015, I felt that I had to finish the book — even when every bone (pun not intended) in my body told me to put it aside and read something else instead!

    So, what’s so weird about it, I hear you ask? Well, it takes the form of a fable in which the Greek gods Hermes and Apollo give a group of dogs the gift of consciousness. The idea is that intelligence does not make humans any more superior or happier than other animals.

    “— I’ll wager a year’s servitude, said Apollo, that animals — any animal you choose — would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they had human intelligence.
    — An earth year? I’ll take that bet, said Hermes, but on condition that if, at the end of its life, even one of the
    creatures is happy, I win.”

    And then 15 dogs, all staying overnight in a veterinary clinic in Toronto, discover that they can suddenly think for themselves, talk in a new language (English) and reason with one another. Yes, I told you it was a weird book.

    Kim’s convinced me — I won’t be reading this one unless it make the shortlist (and even then only to try to figure out what the judges could be thinking). She is moving on to Patrick deWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor next. I’m almost finished Connie Gault’s A Beauty and should have a review up later this week.


    September 22, 2015

    It turns out I was a tad optimistic in announcing the return of the Kevin From Canada blog. A medical procedure that I thought I could take in stride has got in the way of both reading and blogging.

    I’m hoping to be back in shape shortly. I have all the Giller titles on hand and still intend to get to as many as possible. Thanks in advance for bearing with me.

    2015 Giller Prize longlist

    September 9, 2015

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    Here’s this year’s Giller Prize longlist:

    André Alexis for his novel Fifteen Dogs, published by Coach House Books

    •Samuel Archibald for his story collection Arvida, published by Biblioasis, translated from the French by Donald Winkler

    •Michael Christie for his novel If I Fall, If I Die, published by McClelland & Stewart

    •Rachel Cusk for her novel Outline, published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

    •Patrick deWitt for his novel Undermajordomo Minor, published by House of Anansi Press

    •Marina Endicott for her novel Close to Hugh, published by Doubleday Canada

    •Connie Gault for her novel A Beauty, published by McClelland & Stewart

    •Alix Hawley for her novel All True Not a Lie in It, published by Knopf Canada

    •Clifford Jackman for his novel The Winter Family, published by Random House Canada

    •Heather O’Neill for her story collection Daydreams of Angels, published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

    •Anakana Schofield for her novel Martin John, published by A John Metcalf Book, an imprint of Biblioasis

    •Russell Smith for his story collection Confidence, published by A John Metcalf Book, an imprint of Biblioasis

    Certainly some familiar names and a few surprise absences (Jane Urquhart and Nino Ricci to name just two). As I indicated in my last post, I haven’t read a single one of these — so it is time to get down to some serious book buying and reading.

    Stay tuned.

    The KfC blog is back — and so is the Shadow Giller

    September 3, 2015

    Health issues have meant the Kevin from Canada blog has been silent for all of 2015. Things have progressed however and I’m ready to resume reading (and blogging) — although I’ll warn in advance that there may still be some down periods. My personal thanks to those who have sent comments and emails expressing concerns and support for my challenge.

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    The decision to start the blog up again now was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that the 2015 Giller Prize longlist will be announced Sept. 9. Regular visitors here are aware that since year two of the Giller I have chaired a “Shadow Jury” that has dueled with the Real Jury in making choices. It has taken a variety of forms — you can find the story of its history here.

    This year’s jury will remain the same as in recent years. Kim Forrester, an Aussie ex-pat who lives in London, blogs at Reading Matters. Trevor Berrett blogs at The Mookse and the Gripes from his home base in Utah. And Alison Gzowski is an editor at the Globe and Mail.

    As in past years, I’ll post excerpts of Kim and Trevor’s reviews with links to the full version. Alison may be contributing a few guest posts here. With only four weeks to the shortlist announcement, we do our best to try to make sure at least one of us reads each longlist book — we don’t really get going until the shortlist season.

    It is great to be back. I certainly welcome comments on the Giller (and links to your own reviews if they are up). We have had a lot of fun with it over the last five years here and I hope this year will be equally as rewarding and entertaining.

    2014 — KfC’s 10 best

    December 15, 2014

    I will be the first to admit it: the KfC blog had a lot of downtime in 2014 as distractions, diversions and domestic disturbances (it is amazing what the impact of fixing a collapsed, 100-year-old sewage pipe can have on one’s reading and writing) diverted me from dedicated discussion of books. And, let’s face it, a lack of discipline from the blogger reduced both the number of books read and reviews produced. I pledge to do better in 2015.

    Still, I read more than enough books to produce what I feel is a worthy Ten Best list. They are listed in the order that I read them — click on the title to go back to the full review.

    2014 roy The Tin Flute, by Gabrielle Roy. This novel, along with Hugh MacLennan’s Two Solitudes, another exploration of French-English tensions in Quebec, was part of my 2013 project to revisit Canadian authors whom I had read in my youth. Rereading Roy’s novel did not disappoint — indeed, it was even better than when I first read it. Her story of the Lacasse family in post-Depression Montreal is heart-warming at one end, tear-inducing at the other. MacLennan’s novel may be a better example of the macro aspect of the English-French conflict in mid-20th century Montreal — The Tin Flute decisively and sympathetically explores the human cost it imposes on one family.

    2014 collins The Burial, by Courtney Collins. Australian author Courtney Collins’ novel started out with two major strikes against it for me — a hackneyed prologue about an Houdini appearance in Melbourne that serves as the novel’s over-arching metaphor and the introduction of a deceased infant narrative voice, normally a killer when it comes to KfC prejudices. Collins recovered quickly — we soon meet her heroine Jessie Hickman and I was quickly engaged in her story of “escape” (you can’t quite get away from the Houdini metaphor) from brutal experiences. I have a deep affection for North American “frontier” novels; The Burial is an excellent illustration that Australians can produce equally good ones.

    2014 marai Embers, by Sandor Marai. I don’t read nearly as much translated fiction as some bloggers do, but that doesn’t mean that every year’s top 10 list seems to feature at least one example. Embers was first published in 1942 — it has been a well-read classic ever since and, like a good wine (it is one of those “dinner-based” novels), it has improved with age. The book opens with “the General” instructing his servant to prepare the landau to go and fetch “the Captain” from his lodgings in a nearby town. As the book unfolds we experience the chilling story of their history — we slowly learn what it was that fueled the “embers” which are all that remains of their current relationship.

    Us Conductors, by Sean Michaels. Us Conductors was the Shadow Giller Jury’s choice for 2014 — it is safe to say we were as stunned as anyone else when the Real Jury agreed with our selection. It is the fictionalized biography of Lev Termen, a Russian scientist and inventor, who invented and promoted the theremin, an electronic instrument that opened the field of synthesized music which we hear so often today. Termen’s initiative was promising enough that his Soviet masters sent him to America — under the umbrella of promoting the theremin, his minder conducted assorted spying initiatives. They did not work out well and, of course, Lev was blamed. His later time in the Gulag is the least attractive part of the book — author Michaels saves it with a delightful, if somewhat absurd, conclusion where Lev applies his inventing talents to spying on Moscow-based U.S. diplomats. An excellent read, one that I think compares favorably with Jean Echenoz’s equally inventive fictionalized biographies (Tesla, Ravel, and Zatopeck) which you can also find reviewed on this site.

    2014 miller The Tivington Nott, by Alex Miller. Alex Miller is another Australian author who frequently visits the “frontier” story, but this one is set in England, based on his own experiences as a stock boy there before he left for Australia. The “nott” of the book’s title is a stag without antlers — the story is about a crew of Devon and Somerset “hunters” who are obsessed with tracking it down. Miller succeeds in making all of them (not the least himself, the stock boy) fully developed characters who have their own charms and failings. I think Miller is one of the most under-recognized authors writing in English (I am reading his entire catalogue at the rate of one a year) — The Tivington Nott is an excellent example of his strengths.

    2014 zentner The Lobster Kings, by Alexi Zentner. I am pretty much out of step with the rest of the Canadian literary community and bloggers in my admiration for this one — reviews were not impressive and it failed to make any Canadian prize list. The Kings are a lobster-fishing family who have pretty much run Loosewood Island off the coast of New Brunswick and Maine for almost 300 years. In the current time of the novel, they are facing challenges from both poachers and drug runners — and that produces some disastrous consequences. Okay, some of the plot developments are entirely too predictable and verge on the hackneyed, but I found that Zentner produced a cast of characters who came fully to life in a different kind of “frontier” story.

    2014 hustvedt The Blazing World, by Siri Hustvedt. The Blazing World makes a surprise appearance here — I would not have read it were it not one of the first American-written novels longlist for the Booker Prize and if you visit my review you will find that I was ambivalent about it at that time. It has improved in memory. It is the story of Harriet Burden, the widow of a prominent New York dealer who feels her own artistic abilities are overlooked and sets out on a series of interesting ruses to prove her point. While that central theme carries the book, Hustvedt (the spouse of Paul Auster) shares her husband’s interest in producing novels that have a wealth of story lines — some of them didn’t work for me when I first read The Blazing World but they have bloomed with life in the months since.

    2014 flanagan The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan. This year’s Booker Prize winner was another novel that had its flaws for me, but those have receded over time and the exceptionally powerful middle section of the book has become even more impressive. Dorrigo Evan is a Tasmanian who is one of the Australian prisoners-of-war who are ruthlessly used by the Japanese to build the Siam to Burma railway — he survives the experience and becomes a national hero, even though he is a deeply flawed individual. I still wish that Flanagan had spent more effort in developing those flaws in the post-war period — I can’t fault the Booker jury for acknowledging how well he captured the horrors of the POW experience.

    2014 mitchell The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell. This one is a collection of six connected novellas, centred around the character of Holly Sykes. We meet her first as a 15-year-old in Gravesend, are told some of her early paranormal experiences and are introduced to a number of characters who will show up in later sections. As in other Mitchell novels (think Cloud Atlas or Ghostwritten), succeeding sections move on to Cambridge, the Swiss Alps and the global author promotion world, before the author heads off into resolving the paranormal issue (my least favorite of the sections) and then concludes with a post-apocalyptic section set mainly in Ireland. I prefer Mitchell’s penetrating analysis of current conditions (he is a brilliant satirist) to his “bigger” themes — for my money The Bone Clocks has plenty of both.

    Tell, by Frances Itani. Set in the small town of Desoronto, Ontario in 1919, this novel is an exploration of the trials and tensions in a post Great War community, far removed from the conflict itself. Kenan Oak has returned from the war badly damaged (his entire left side pretty much useless) and he and his wife Tress are struggling to re-establish their relationship. What made the novel work for me is the way that their story is contrasted with that of his Uncle Am and his wife — in a way similar to The Tin Flute, Tell is the exploration of a community and its values and the way the “ordinary” experience the waves of “great” events.

    The 2014 Real Giller Prize winner is…

    November 10, 2014

    The Real Giller jury actually agreed with the Shadow Giller jury — what more can I say?

    Then again, they read all the books and we read all the shortlist, so maybe the decision(s) shouldn’t be such a surprise — although I certainly was when I heard the announcement.

    Keep scrolling to discovery how the Shadow Jury reached its decision. And you will find links to both Kimbofo and my reviews of Us Conductors.

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