A CBC GEM DOCUMENTARY:
Meet the women who love murder 
The Mesdames of Mayhem
The Importance of Art in a Time of Crisis

Welcome back to The Minerva Reader! Repeating the impassioned plea that I posted on Interview With An Author, this is a time when many lives are being lost, people are suffering job losses and worrying about their children's educations, how to pay the rent and cope with being single stay-at-home moms and all sorts of things that I can't even imagine. 

So it seems kind of frivolous for me to be rambling on about books but this is also a time when many people's dreams are being shattered. Authors work for years to bring about a book. They work alone. They work with friends and trusted colleagues, artists and collaborators and then, finally, the book comes out into the world. And, even in the best of times, it’s no easy feat launching a book and in today's world, it's even tougher. Festivals, readings, launches and events have been cancelled. Book stores have, by necessity, shut their doors. 

So perhaps, now, more than ever, these small efforts mean more than ever. My series, Interview With An Author (which you can find on Goodreads) will continue with renewed frequency and The Minerva Reader will continue to shine the spotlight on unsung treasures that you might have missed. 

I truly hope that you'll take a look at these books and at all the hard work these authors have put into it. These artistic labours of love deserve attention, they truly do and I hope will join me in celebrating these books and the talented writers.  Kenneth Whyte, Publisher at Sutherland Books and author of ShuSH newsletter said this: “Publishers are now counting on Amazon more than ever. How does Amazon respond? By “deprioritizing books” in favor of household staples, medical devices, and high demand products. Its PR team is spinning this as Amazon saving lives by putting ventilators and serums ahead of mere books. Of course, no one really knows how Amazon works, and no one trusts it either.”

Now, more than ever, we need to rally around the arts, in every way we can and I hope you’ll join me. Buy from independent publishers, they’re all online and have a eBooks and audio books as well as printed books. It’s all there!

-.-

And now, onto this issue’s reviews, with a lovely guest review by Melodie Campbell. The Toronto Sun called Melodie Canada's "Queen of Comedy."  Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich.  In 2018, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine christened her "the Canadian literary heir to Donald Westlake. Melodie is the past executive director of Crime Writers of Canada, and has been on faculty at Sheridan College since 1992.  I really enjoyed her 15th book, The Crime Club (Orca books) and look forward to The Italian Curse.

About the book:
Do You Know Me? is an eclectic mix of genres, reflecting the varied writing styles of Caro Soles. This small window into her world gives you just a taste; literary, humorous, historical, mystery, dark fantasy, military science fiction, and even a taste of erotica. It is an hors d'oeuvre, something to whet your appetite for the rest of the banquet to come!

Guest Review by Melodie Campbell:
Do You Know Me?  short stories by Caro Soles, Baskerville Books
Sole's daring anthology Do You Know Me is a feast of emotions. Rarely, have I been so affected by short stories.  Bel Canto fascinated me.  I loved The Chosen Few, was delighted with Beau Geste, and The Secret Child broke my heart.  Be prepared to be whirled into many different alien worlds that shatter conventions and leave you on the edge of your seat wanting more. First rate.  5/5

-.-

My Art Is Killing Me and Other Poems by Amber Dawn, Arsenal Press

About the book:
In her novels, poetry, and prose, Amber Dawn has written eloquently on queer femme sexuality, individual and systemic trauma, and sex work justice, themes drawn from her own lived experience and revealed most notably in her award-winning memoir How Poetry Saved My Life.

In this, her second poetry collection, Amber Dawn takes stock of the costs of coming out on the page in a heartrendingly honest and intimate investigation of the toll that artmaking takes on artists. These long poems offer difficult truths within their intricate narratives that are alternately incendiary, tender, and rapturous.

In a cultural era when intersectional and marginalized writers are topping bestseller lists, Amber Dawn invites her readers to take an unflinching look at we expect from writers, and from each other. (Goodreads).

My Review: To put it simply, this collection of poems is outstanding. Heartbreaking, illuminating and ultimately healing, Amber Dawn’s insights and succinct, razor-sharp observations are so exquisite I wish I could tattoo them onto the insides of my eyeballs. But instead I will have to revisit this collection, often.

Here are a few excerpts that blew me away:

When the mind processes trauma through metaphor is it compassion?

Or is this only        the beginning of another
publish-ready piece for my body-of-work?

-.-

I spent a humble lifetime looking for

others who too labour to live inside their skin

-.-

Survival has always been about omitting parts of the story
about speaking only permissible words in permissible situations.

-.-

But you (literally you) are reading queer and desperate poetry
so may I assume you too have never been afforded
an uncomplicated story? Does streamlining
imply a certain luxury
that is not yours?

-.-

The mind processes trauma through metaphor.

-.-

As well, in ink, presently, on this page: I’m here
for the divine and complex work that is healing.

-.-

Whatever is written becomes beautifully suspended.
Have I transcended or I have stayed my own trauma?

-.-

Look After Her by Hannah Brown, Inanna Publications.

About the book:
Upon the death of their art-loving parents, two young Jewish adolescents are kidnapped by a family friend and taken to a brothel. There they are held captive by their shared shame and by the younger sister's forced addiction to morphine. Love and psychodrama gives them the courage to finally escape Vienna. Once in England, however, Hedy discovers her younger sister Susannah longs to be independent-- and in Italy. But in 1938, despite the safety they each have found among the privileged, they return to Vienna just before Hitler arrives, putting their own lives and those of two children in danger. With the background of anti-Semitism and exploitation, of sex and love and art and dramatic ruses, all during the terrifying rise of fascism in Austria and Italy, Look After Her reveals this truth: no matter how close we are to another human being, even a beloved sister, that's what we are: close-- we all have our own secrets to keep.

Firstly, cogratulations to Hannah Brown – Look After Her is a 2019 Foreword INDIES Finalist, along with nine other books. The INDIES awards recognize the best books published in 2019 from small, indie, and university presses, as well as by self-published authors.

My Review:
Look After Her is a cinematic epic that you can truly sink your teeth into. A book to relish, fall into and follow with absorbed fascination. I particularly loved the complex relationship of sisterly love – complex at the easiest of times, compounded here by war and terrible circumstance. A beautifully detailed feast of a book!

-.-

And, in case you missed it, don't forget to check out In The Key of Thirteen!

Mesdames of Mayhem, Peter Robinson spice up new crime and mystery fiction 
By Jack Batten Special to the Star 

For the fourth collection of crime short stories from the Mesdames of Mayhem, music is the theme, and one of the book’s appeals lies in the often ingenious ways the writers sneak Mozart or the Beach Boys or “Turandot” into the plots. Melodie Campbell deserves a prize in the ingenuity category for saving the only musical mention in her clever story until its last two words which happen to be the title to an Elvis song. 

Overall, the stories reach more diabolical peaks than the previous collections. What else but diabolical is a tale about a dentist conceiving nasty things by way of root canal? Or, more playfully, a sinister narrative centred on the value (immense apparently) of a CHUM chart for a week in September 1974? 

Probably the most affecting piece in the collection comes from Sylvia Maultash Warsh whose story features the exquisite revenge taken by a Russian survivor of the gulags who, across the world in a lush Yorkville apartment 29 years removed from her internment, finally gets even with her most evil tormentor.

-.-

WE ALL WILL BE RECEIVED by Leslie Vryenhoek, Breakwater Press.
 
About the book: In 1977, a young woman swipes a duffel bag of drug money and flees her bad-news boyfriend, hitching a ride with a long-haul trucker who points out satellites and enthuses about the future of space cargo. Building a life disconnected from her past, she assumes a new identity as Dawn Taylor, but thirty years later, running a roadside motel on a remote highway, Dawn will host a group of disparate individuals--all desperate to rewrite their own stories. Brody seeks escape from those intent on repeating the narrative of his childhood trauma. Cheryl, whose career as a filmmaker is being dismantled on social media, rushes to rescue her daughter from a vicious cycle. And Spencer, an ex-con with easy access to his criminal past, chases an elusive redemption after seeing a picture of Dawn on a tourism website. In We All Will Be Received, Leslie Vryenhoek offers a range of unforgettable characters--all hoping to reconstruct a truth that's been shattered by perspective--and asks whether anyone can find peace or atonement in a contemporary world where technology makes the past ever present. (Goodreads)
 
My Review:
This novel starts off gritty and nail-biting, Bonnie and Clyde meets Goin’ Down The Road and it doesn’t let up. Even once you’ve read the last page, you’re still enthralled and you’re still right there, in the refurbished Graceland Inn, hoping there’s more to read because you’re not ready to say goodbye to the characters. You know a book is great when you’re so tired but you read through the night. What extraordinary prose, so fine, so sculpted. I loved the complexity of the characters and the scope of the story. In a way, it rings similar to The Irishman by Martin Scorsese where the sins of the past complicate the relations of the present and cannot help but surface to an action-packed climax. I loved the timeline of this book, how the plot wove back and forth and looped seamlessly to gather up the lives of many. The characters were written with a beautiful subtlety that carried vivid poignancies which spoke volumes. 

-.- And, on to the March reviews! -.-

BLUE BEAR WOMAN by Virginia Bordeleau, Ouriou Susan (Translation), Christelle Morelli (Translation), Inanna Publications.

About the book:
Blue Bear Woman or Ourse bleueis the first novel in Quebec written by an Indigenous woman. The story of a young Cree woman's search for her roots and identity, this is also the author's debut novel, originally published in 2007, and it will be her second book to be published in English. The novel has been described as a "texte de resistance", showing contemporary Indigenous life and the impact on the Cree of the building of the Eastmain dam in northern Quebec, posited as "virgin" territory, yet which has actually been part of the Cree traditional territory since time immemorial. In search of her roots, Victoria takes a trip to the country of her Cree ancestors with her companion, Daniel. It is a long journey to the north along the shores of James Bay. Colours, smells, and majestic landscapes arouse memories that soon devolve into strange and hauntings dreams at night. In bits and pieces, uncles, aunties, and cousins arrive to tell the story of Victoria's family and bring with them images of her childhood that are tinged both with joy and sadness. Guided by her totem, the Blue Bear, she returns home to make peace with her soul, as well as release the soul of her great-uncle, a hunter who has been missing in the forest for over twenty years. (Goodreads)

My Review:
I agree wholeheartedly with James Fisher, of The Miramichi Reader, when he says:
“In Daniel Heath Justice’s seminal book, Why Indigenous Literatures Matters, he states: “Stories are bigger than the texts or the bodies that carry them.” So it is with Blue Bear Woman. Ms. Bordeleau shifts back and forth between her youth (the early 1960s) and the present (2004) as she weaves a mesmerizing story of discovery, loss, family, and spiritual direction that was a pure joy to experience. The patient reader is rewarded with Victoria’s deepest thoughts as she recalls happy times, simpler times, wondrous stories recounted by her elders, and the dreams that compel her to press on. However, always present are the insidious actions of the white man (past and present) and how they have changed the Cree peoples in immeasurable ways. A 5-star read, Blue Bear Woman, is on the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Fiction.

I was enthralled by the story, swept away on colliding emotions and pulled into this visceral, often devastating, but extremely uplifting tale. I was unable to put the book down. This wonderful book speaks to so much. It’s so beautifully written and it’s an important read on many levels.

-.-

THE NOTHING THAT IS; ESSAYS ON ART, LITERATURE AND BEING
(Essais Series #9) by Johanna Skibsrud Published October 1st 2019 by Book*hug Press

About the book:
Addressing a broad range of topics and works by contemporary writers and artists, these essays seek to decentre our relationship to both the "givenness" of history and to a predictive or probable model of the future. They do so by drawing attention to the ways that poetic language activates the multiple, and as yet undesignated, possibilities replete within our every moment, and within every encounter between a speaking "I" and what exceeds subjectivity--a listening "Other," be it community or the objective world. (Goodreads)

Written over a period of more than a decade, The Nothing That Is is a collection about the very concept of "nothing," approached from a variety of angles and in a variety of ways. What exceeds ‪subjectivity? The answer: poetic language. How? I urge you to read the collection of essays!

My Review:
I truly loved The Nothing That Is. It's incredibly thought-provoking and wonderful and is a joy to read. The book gave my brain a workout in the most delightful of ways!

I hate to admit this but I highlighted parts and made notes on the book itself - a travesty, I know, but I wanted to internalize the ideas and come back to them repeatedly, it’s that important to me. It’s a marvellous philosophical treatise or map, as it were.

It’s so easy to lose sight of why one writes - it’s easy to get caught up in the flotsam of marketing and sales and trends and all sorts of things, and that’s why this book is so important to me. This book addresses the fundamental whys behind all artistic endeavours. 

-.-

MY TOTEM CAME CALLING by Thorsten Nesch and Blessing Musariri, Mawenzi House

About the Book: Chanda is a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl in Harare, Zimbabwe, who suddenly starts suffering from memory lapses, which become even more worrisome when she starts seeing a zebra in all sorts of places. The trouble is, nobody else can see it. Afraid of being institutionalized in a hospital, she follows the advice of an old aunt and sets off for her ancestral village, a primitive settlement with none of the amenities she is used to in the city. But there she meets the rest of her family, including her strange and mysterious grandmother, and learns the hard way who she really is—not a superficial, rich city girl with foreign habits but someone who is somebody, whose name carries a history of her African people. (Mawenzi House)

My Review: 
Oh, this book is such a joy to read! I requested a review copy from Mawenzi house, thinking it would be interesting since I grew up in South Africa. As a child, we visited Zimbabwe often and I loved the land. I enjoyed the book beyond my hopes or expectations. I loved the characters so much. The book is funny, insightful and beautifully written. The reader is transported to Zimbabwe and one never wants to leave. It’s a YA book but as we know, many adults would do well to read YA not just because it’s good to know what the younger generations are thinking and feeling (if, like me, you don’t have kids) but because crafting a really good YA novel is no easy feat.

I recommend this novel on so many levels – it’s a heartwarming, joyful read from start to finish and puts a lovely perspective on life. The only drawback was that I really miss Africa a lot and this book rekindled my desire to visit it as soon as I can!

-.-

HUNDREDS & THOUSANDS by Teri Vlassopoulos

I loved Teri’s book, Escape Plans, and when she posted the below on Twitter, I jumped at the opportunity to read Hundreds & Thousands!

About the book:
“So it turns out that if I compiled every single TinyLetter I sent between 2015-2019, it adds up to almost 40,000 words, which is basically the length of a novella. That's a lot of words. Even though I'm not updating this TinyLetter anymore, I wanted to give those words a more permanent home, and a zine felt like the right way to do it: something a little sloppy and lo-fi and straight from the heart, just like the zines I made when I was 16 or 21 or 27 or 33. 

“I've edited it down to about 15,000 words and named it after a letter I wrote back in 2017. I tried to distill the zine to the topics I revisited over and over again over the years: early motherhood, aging, trying to be a writer. Also music and reading and travelling and food. I tried to get fancy with the design, realized it was too complicated and stuck with my cut and paste roots. The font is probably too small, there aren't enough pictures, and I just noticed a few margins are cut off. (Some things never change!)”

My Review:
Thank you, Teri, for this truly wonderful collection of insights and observations about life, parenting, love, travel and writing. Reading this made me feel so happy! You helped me get in touch with the happy me, the me who likes hanging out with me! You talked about being in the moment and this collection is exactly that, a collection of happy moments, even when those moments were conflicted and observed for being so. I loved reading parts of this and thinking “Ah, she felt that way too!” A beautiful camaraderie comes by way of Teri’s writing. Fine writing, fine insights and a sprinkle-treat all round!

You can find out more about the book here: https://tinyletter.com/teri_vlass/letters/on-hundreds-thousands

-.-

SEE YOU ON THE INTERNET: BUILDING YOUR SMALL BUSINESS WITH DIGITAL MARKETING
by Avery Swartz

About the book:
The proven, frustration-free way to make your business stand out online, from one of North America's leaders on digital marketing for small businesses.

Today, you can launch a website, create social media feeds, and get products and services to market on some of the world’s most powerful sales platforms in a matter of hours. But marketing your small business effectively takes some careful thought. In See You on the Internet, Avery Swartz, one of North America's top tech leaders, gives you a failsafe framework to plan and execute a brilliant digital marketing strategy with confidence. And you don't need a technical background to follow it. In five simple steps, you will learn to build your brand, increase your customers, and generate more revenue.

Avery Swartz has spent fourteen years on the ground working directly with hundreds of clients as a web designer, instructor, consultant, and digital advisor. With the aid of real-life stories and examples, she will guide you through the ins and outs of website development, e-commerce, search engine optimization, social media, email marketing, and online advertising --- and you'll be able to track all of your results. See You on the Internet is a clear, friendly, and highly usable guide for anyone in a small business or similar organization to thrive in the digital world. (Goodreads)

My Review: I love the way this book breaks things down into easily digestible, clear parts. The internet often feels like an unnavigable ocean with rip tides and hidden dangers and this book maps out stategies and outlines clear goals. This is a good source for authors who are starting out but is equally valuable to seasoned Internet veterans looking to refresh and recalibrate their online activities and expectations.

-.-


The Artis, Volume 1, No 4

About the magazine: "The Artis knows that good art requires more than just skill, it requires dedication that has honed those skills for years. In celebration of the increasingly important need for brilliant art that touches us, The Artis unites words with visual arts to illustrate that there truly is something for everyone in the arts. 

The Artis is a literarture, art and culture periodical that captures the raw talent and diversity of the 905 art and culture scene, wit a special focus on the 45+ age demographic. 

The Artis publishes an eclectic range of original visual art and literature, from poetry to prose, photography to paintings and multi-media works, essays to opinion-editorials, artist profile interviews, and more."

Good art is here."

My Review: 
In a time when good (printed) magazines are becoming increasingly hard to find, The Artis is indeed a treasure. This issue is jam-packed with literary and visual treats, with work by Anna Geisler, Andrea Thompson, Max Layton, Meena Chopra, Betty Sutherland/Boschka, Brenda Clews, Alexandra Innes, Dave Taylor, Frank Veri, Gordon Phinn, Peta-Gaye Nash, Josie diSciascio-Andrews, Norman Cristofoli, Dee Fuhr with featured artists Norman Brown, Sheila Tucker, Bryan Turner and Tom Gannon Hamilton.  

It's a beautiful presentation of stellar literary and visual art and I hugely encourage you to subscribe, read and follow The Artis. As Ivy Reiss (Editor-in-Chief and Art Director) says in her editor's letter: "Throughout the ages, art has brought diverse groups together, taught younger generations about their past, and raised the voice of reason in troubled times. I hope this issue strengthens and keeps these traditions alive."

Kudo, Ivy, and I wish you great continued success the The Artis!
theartismagazine.com

-.-

FEBRUARY Reviews.
   
I admit that, due to writing and attending to all the love that The Occult Persuasion and The Anarchist's Solution is enjoying on the Silver Dagger Book Tour, I haven't had the opportunity to read as many books as I had hoped, nor are the reviews as detailed as I would like, however, these truly are gems and I really hope you'll check them out. I'll be back in March with more unsung heroes of the literary world!

And, a big welcome to this issue's guest reviewer: 
Heather Babcock, author of the soon-to-be-released Filthy Sugar, Inanna Publications

ANATOMY OF AN INJURY Myna Wallin, Inanna Publications
About the book: 
Bringing together the themes of death, of gender and sexuality, the poet creates a speaker whose language and experience, linked from poem to poem, reflects the true complexity of a woman's perspective. Death is a prevalent theme; anxiety, fear and paranoia simmer throughout the poems. Regret, too, is a recurrent theme, as previous experience defines us even by its absence. The societal construct of womanhood, questions of aging, and female stereotypes are opportunities for an analysis of women's roles and the speaker's need to subvert modern ideals of femininity and sexuality. The poems often employ satire or self-parody and wry humour to suggest that a woman's understanding of her options in the twenty-first century, in light of the many waves of feminism, is always in flux and always challenging. (Goodreads)

Heather's Review: 
Reading Anatomy of an Injury is like conversing with a mysterious stranger over vodka martinis, the glasses smudged with dark red lipstick, in the dining car of a midnight train. Actually, my use of "train" here is more than a simile for not only does this poetry collection take the reader on a journey - one that is both personal and universal - but I read Anatomy of an Injury while on my own midnight travels (albeit on the TTC with a lipstick stained Starbucks paper cup in lieu of a martini). Thanks to Wallin's strikingly sensual and refreshingly honest poetry, I almost missed my stop! 

There is sex here:

"I've always loved a thin man,
the way his spider legs wrap themselves
around me over and over
like an old-fashioned spindle winding wool into yarn." (p. 84, "Suite for John")

Wallin also infuses her poetry with humor ("Ms. Pac-Man Always Rings Twice") as well as hard-won wisdom and intimate truths:

"I worry all the time,
a habit so entrenched, it would feel
as though I was being disrespectful,
if I let my guard down
for even a moment." (p.64 & 65, "Death, Wildlife and Taxes")

Like a film noir vixen, Wallin's poetry is sophisticated, delicious and a little dangerous. The poems in Anatomy of an Injury will both shake and stir you. 

-.-

A ROLL OF THE BONES by Trudy J. Morgan-Cole, Breakwater Books

About the book: 
In 1610, John Guy established a small colony in Cupids, Newfoundland, on the very edge of a world unknown to Europeans. Two years later, he brought a shipment of supplies to his all-male settlement: 70 goats, 10 heifers, 2 bulls, and 16 women. A Roll of the Bones tells the story of some of these nameless women by tracing the journeys of three young people--Ned Perry, Nancy Ellis, and Kathryn Gale--who leave Bristol, England, for a life in the struggling community. Ned dreams of altering his fate with the promise of a New World. Kathryn only wishes to follow her husband--little dreaming she might find romance outside her marriage. And Nancy, the servant girl, has no desire to leave Bristol, but her fealty will ultimately test her ability to survive. A vivid reimagining of settler life in the early seventeenth century, A Roll of the Bones is the first in a trilogy of novels wrestling with the realities of colonization. Here, Trudy J. Morgan-Cole presents an array of unforgettable characters inhabiting the space where two worlds will collide, where the limits of love and loyalty will be tried in a harsh and unforgiving landscape. (Goodreads)

My Review: 
I came to Canada in 2000 literally with one small suitcase and no idea what to expect. I too, expected the 'bone-chilling cold' a la the recent trending tweet but I arrived in summer and it was blissful! But with the summer came the bugs and bugs such as I had never seen. I ended up in emerge with an ear the size of a small child, from a bite. All this to say that I have often wondered what the travellers to this land in 1610 would have encountered and would I have survived? 

This vivid, cinematic story gripped me from the start – it's the first of a trilogy which I knew when I set out to read it but then I forgot and imagine my horror at the cliffhanger ending! Needless to say, I can't wait for the next instalment! Likeable characters, smooth writing that truly whisks you into Cupid's Cove, a lovely dash of romance and intrigue, pirates and villains! 

-.-

DISFIGURED by Amanda Leduc, Coach House Books

About the book:
In fairy tales, happy endings are the norm -- as long as you're beautiful and walk on two legs. After all, the ogre never gets the princess. And since fairy tales are the foundational myths of our culture, how can a girl with a disability ever think she'll have a happy ending?

By examining the ways that fairy tales have shaped our expectations of disability, Disfigured will point the way toward a new world where disability is no longer a punishment or impediment but operates, instead, as a way of centering a protagonist and helping them to cement their own place in a story, and from there, the world. Through the book, Leduc ruminates on the connections we make between fairy tale archetypes -- the beautiful princess, the glass slipper, the maiden with long hair lost in the tower -- and tries to make sense of them through a twenty-first-century disablist lens. From examinations of disability in tales from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen through to modern interpretations ranging from Disney to Angela Carter, and the fight for disabled representation in today's media, Leduc connects the fight for disability justice to the growth of modern, magical stories, and argues for increased awareness and acceptance of that which is other -- helping us to see and celebrate the magic inherent in different bodies. (Goodreads)

My Review: 
It's my firm conviction that this book will be an unsung treasure for less than a few minutes – it's that good, that relevant and that thought-provoking. Disfigured should be prescribed reading for all. Kudos to Coach House and Amanda Leduc. I couldn’t put it down and I plan to read it very carefully again. Thank you, Amanda Leduc, for writing this very important book, it’s so dearly needed by our world. It certainly changed mine – I’ll never view fairytales, stereotypical villains, illness or disabilities in the same light again.

-.-

PRACTICAL JEAN by Trevor Cole, Harper Perennial

About the book:
Jean Vale Horemarsh is an ordinary, small-town woman with the usual challenges of middle age. She's content, mostly, with the life she's built: a semi-successful career as a ceramics artist, a close collection of women friends (if you ignore the terrible falling out she had with Cheryl all those years ago), a comfortable marriage with a kind if otherwise unextraordinary man. And then Jean sees her mother go through the final devastating months of cancer, and realizes that her fondest wish is to protect her dearest friends from the indignities of aging and illness. That's when she decides to kill them... 

This eagerly awaited new novel from Trevor Cole combines the humour and sharp observations of contemporary life that he is known for with an irresistibly twisted premise, for fans of the quirkily macabre Six Feet Under and Dexter, and readers of Paul Quarrington, Miriam Toews, Jonathan Franzen, and, of course, Trevor Cole.

In his first two, GG-shortlisted novels, Trevor Cole proved himself a master of drawing us into the shadowy side of human nature with sharp observation and warm wit. (Goodreads)

My Review:
What a deliciously creepy, darkly hilarious, wonderful book! It covered vast tracts of emotional ground, all contained in a small town populated by a cast of fabulous characters. I loved this book – as dark as it was, it was touching, deeply insightful and strangely uplifting. 

-.-

ROAD WARRIOR by Vivian Meyer, Inanna Publications

About the book:
Abby Faria returns from an extended vacation/work holiday in BC to discover that her friend, Maria is having marital problems, problems that are affecting her children as well. As Abby resumes her job as a bike courier, it becomes clear that Maria's troubles are bigger than she first presented and they are soon compounded with the disappearance of her son. She turns to Abby for help. As usual, as Abby tries to piece together the clues, and to help keep Maria's fish shop running, she makes new friends who help out. Alex, the woman who took over the Community Centre Bike work program for youth in Abby's absence, becomes a close friend as they work together. Handsome Dave, a fellow bicycle and coffee enthusiast, and an RCMP officer on loan to the Toronto police Force, becomes an unlikely ally as well, in the hunt for Thomas, Maria's son. As she continues to work on the case, Abby finds time to go for two or three thrilling rides through the city, develop a relationship with Dave, enjoy some excellent meals in Little Italy and Kensington Market, and learn some little known facts about pedophiles. But, the longer time passes, the more desperate the situation becomes. Ultimately Abby ends up trapped in Alex's house in Little Italy, in danger and frustrated at being unable to help Maria. This leads to an unexpected twist, a hidden room, the rescue of young Thomas, and the tragic death of a new friend, all of which bring relief, and grief, to Abby's community. (Goodreads)

My Review:
I really enjoyed hanging out with Abby Faria, feisty heroine, good friend and dedicated amateur sleuth. With fully rounded-out characters, strong social connections and true-to-life family and life dilemmas, the novel takes you through the streets of Toronto and around Kensington Market. Meyer has a real knack for making one feel part of the action, the reader tastes every morsel and breathes every breath with Abby as she pounds to the finish line.

-.-

JANUARY Reviews, in alphabetical order by book title.
   
CARVE THE HEART by A.G. Pasquella (Dundurn)
 
About the book: Cassandra, the woman who broke Jack Palace’s heart, is suddenly back in his life. She owes $600,000 to a brutal gangster who has threatened her life, and she needs Jack’s help. Things start to get violent when Cassandra suddenly disappears … but not everyone believes she's in danger. Is Jack being set up? Bikers, mobsters, and strippers collide as Jack storms the mean streets of Toronto searching for Cassandra. To find her, he must rip open old wounds and confront new enemies. But as loyalties falter and secrets are revealed, Jack begins to wonder who he can really trust. If he doesn’t figure it out fast, he — and everyone he cares about — could end up dead. (Goodreads)
 
My Review:
He’s back! Jack Palace, meaner, grittier and tougher than ever! Carve The Heart cuts clean like a hot knife through cold butter, with characters you’ll think about long after you put the book down. Stylish and funny with a quick and powerful undertow of cruel, Jack Palace doesn’t hold back as he takes a stand in his own inimitable way. A thoroughly enjoyable, pitch perfect noir read! I was a fan of Yard Dog but Carve The Heart enjoys an even deeper groove of menace and humour, as if A.G. Pasquella has tapped into the next level, delivering a seamless tale. And it’s set in Toronto!
 
-.-
 
JOURNEYWOMAN by Carolyne Van Der Meer (Inanna Publications)
 
About the book:
Journeywoman is the story in poems of the explicitly female journey made by women through girlhood, motherhood and beyond. The play on the word journeyman is intentional with the notion of completing an apprenticeship and seeking mastery of the trade implicit. The actual journey, both physical and intellectual, however, is what brings woman to that state of mastery and Journeywoman, through verse, provides just one itinerary. This unique collection explores the stages of womanhood as defined by this author: the waif, the mother and the crone. It invokes the stories of many to describe the process of mastering the craft of being female, with all its inherent complexities. The actual journey is both physical and intellectual and involves not only the physical alterations a woman undergoes through the changing of stages—the metamorphosing required to achieve mastery—but also true travel, the road embarked upon to achieve enlightenment, the attempt to grasp the intangible, the ethereal, the metaphysical, the disembodied, the sacred. (Goodreads)
 
My Review
Journeywoman was a wonderful collection to read as the sun set on a decade. Reflective, introspective and observant, the work follows the life of everywoman, the loves, losses, triumphs, challenges, hopes and dreams in this circle of life. There was much to relate to.
 
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LISTEN TO THE SQUAWKING CHICKEN by Elaine Lui (LaineyGossip, Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons)
 
About the book:
As the 800,000+ U.S. fans of Elaine Lui’s site know, her mother, aka The Squawking Chicken, is a huge factor in Elaine’s life. She pulls no punches, especially with her only child. “Where’s my money?” she asks every time she sees Elaine. “You’ll never be Miss Hong Kong,” she informed her daughter when she was a girl. Listen to the Squawking Chicken lays bare the playbook of unusual advice, warnings, and unwavering love that has guided Elaine throughout her life. Using the nine principles that her mother used to raise her, Elaine tells us the story of the Squawking Chicken’s life—in which she walked an unusual path to parent with tough love, humor, and, through it all, a mother’s unyielding devotion to her daughter. This is a love letter to mothers everywhere. (Goodreads)
 
My Review:
Whatever I was expecting, this book wasn’t it! I guess I thought it would be filled with warmth and fuzzy mother/daughter love and laughter and infused with nuggets of zen and helpful Chinese wisdom. And let me say that I love China, I’ve visited Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong on more than one occasion – I love the craziness of the crowds and the energy of the place.
 
Instead, it was an entirely unexpected memoir, crass in places, unashamedly blunt and quite in-your-face. I really enjoyed it though although the superstitions and strict adherence to luck and feng shui left me feeling decidedly nervous. Was I jinxing my entire life because I wasn’t eating papaya (or whatever my given fruit was – and how could I find what that fruit was?) because I didn’t have access to Elaine Lui’s mother’s insights?
 
I immediately decided to look up the Year of the Horse for 2020 and the prognosis wasn’t good. I’ve been quite obsessed with feng shui in my life and didn’t find it made any difference, but the book made me wonder if I should try again? Heaven knows, one doesn’t want to start off the year with bad luck!
 
If you aren’t worried or disconcerted by myriad superstitions or ghosts leaping off the page from Elaine Lui’s book and into your life, then this is a fascinating read about a unique but reassuringly familiarly enduring complex mother/daughter bond. Too close? I’d venture a yes but since LaineyGossip goes from one success to another, one must admit that The Squawking Chicken seems to know her stuff. Now… if only my Mother could do that!
 
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MISTAKES TO RUN WITH by Yasuko Thankh (Hamish Hamilton)
 
About the book:
Mistakes to Run With chronicles the turbulent life of Yasuko Thanh, from early childhood in the closest thing Victoria, BC, has to a slum to teen years as a sex worker and, finally, to her emergence as an award-winning author. As a child, Thanh embraced evangelical religion, only to rebel against it and her equally rigid parents, cutting herself, smoking, and shoplifting. At fifteen, the honour-roll runaway develops a taste for drugs and alcohol. After a stint in jail at sixteen, feeling utterly abandoned by her family, school, and society, Thanh meets the man who would become her pimp and falls in love.

The next chapter of her life takes Thanh to the streets of Vancouver, where she endures beatings, arrests, crack cocaine, and an unwanted pregnancy. The act of writing ultimately becomes a solace from her suffering. Leaving the sex trade, but refusing to settle on any one thing, Thanh forges a new life for herself, from dealing drugs in four languages to motherhood and a complicated marriage, and emerges as a successful writer.

But even as publication and awards bolster her, she remains haunted by her past.
 
My Review:
Compulsive and compelling reading from start to finish, exquisitely written. ‪I loved the conviction in this novel that writing heals, brings resolution and happiness and absolves the heart and psyche from pain and punishment. That life doesn’t work that way doesn’t mean that we or the writing fails. It’s our inescapable truth-telling. Kudos to Yasuko Thanh for this memoir that leaves me hoping that all is well in this writer’s world and life becomes a kinder place.
 
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STRANGERS IN THE HOUSE by Candace Savage (Greystone Books)
 
About the book:
A renowned author investigates the dark and shocking history of her prairie house.

When researching the first occupant of her Saskatoon home, Candace Savage discovers a family more fascinating and heartbreaking than she expected.

Napoléon Sureau dit Blondin built the house in the 1920s, an era when French-speakers like him were deemed “undesirable” by the political and social elite, who sought to populate the Canadian prairies with WASPs only. In an atmosphere poisoned first by the Orange Order and then by the Ku Klux Klan, Napoléon and his young family adopted anglicized names and did their best to disguise their “foreignness.”

In Strangers in the House, Savage scours public records and historical accounts and interviews several of Napoléon’s descendants, including his youngest son, to reveal a family story marked by challenge and resilience. In the process, she examines a troubling episode in Canadian history, one with surprising relevance today. (Goodreads)
 
 
My Review:
I once thought history was as objective as a compass needle. But the reality is that it’s a often no more than a marketing document espoused by those in power and once the truth is uncovered, it’s shocking and dismaying. This was a difficult book to read because of what we humans do in the name of religion, conquest and power. It was also a fascinating and eye-opening read and I highly recommend it.
 
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THE CLUB KING by Peter Gatien (Little A, Amazon Publishing, April 2020)
 
About the book:
Limelight, Tunnel, Club USA, and Palladium—the cutting-edge, insanely successful, and notoriously decadent clubs that dominated New York City’s entertainment scene, their influences reverberating around the world. Across four decades, a single mysterious figure stood behind them all: Peter Gatien, the leading impresario of global nightlife. His clubs didn’t follow the trends—they created movements. They nurtured vanguard music acts that brought rock, house, grunge, hip-hop, industrial, and techno to the beautiful ones who showed up night after night to tear the roof off every party. But as Peter and his innovative team ramped up the hedonistic highs, Rudolph Giuliani was leading a major shift in the city. Under the guise of improving New York City’s “quality of life,” the club scene was targeted—and Peter Gatien’s empire became a major focus of the administration.

In this frank and gritty memoir, Peter Gatien charts the seismic changes in his personal and professional life and the targeted destruction of his nightclub empire. From Peter’s childhood in a Canadian mill town to the freedom of the 1970s, through the excesses of the 1980s and the ensuing crackdown in the 1990s, The Club King chronicles the birth and death of a cultural movement—and the life of the man who was in control of every beat.  (Goodreads)
 
My Review:
What a wild ride! This is a fascinating read! For the most part, I read the book willing Peter Gatien to get off the crazy club carousel while he was still ahead, but I knew full well that a great fall lay ahead.
 
I was riveted by the hard work and creativity, the ingenuity and the drive, the contributions by Andy Warhol and the entire team of players who worked tirelessly to build the culture that was the lifeblood of a generation. What a cast of characters – only they weren’t characters, they were real people, living the dream of club land, back in the day when clubs were the places you went to dance and dream and live your best life, although at that time, no one was uttering that tired, over-memed clichéd phrase.
 
Gatien is so right when he observed that club land was where we saw what people were wearing, what the songs were – we didn’t sit on the sofa, staring at our phones, detached while deluding ourselves that we are part of the action. Being part of the action in those days was getting ready to go out, standing in line for hours and dancing your heart out.
 
The book is an intense read, from rags to riches and then having the magic carpet whipped out from under one. One chapter is aptly title All Yesterday’s Parties and this might well have been a great title for the book.
 
It makes me sad to think of all the silence left behind, to think of the ghosts of all the vibrant characters that lived so fully and with such vibrancy. Perhaps it’s time to get off the sofa and go dancing but this book took me there, it took me off the sofa and into the Limelight and behind the scenes for riveting insider glances.
 
I’d also love to read more about Gatien’s adjustment to life back in Canada, after the bubble of his dream had burst. That couldn’t have been easy. This Icarus-tale will leave you wanting to know even more.
 
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THE TENDER BIRDS by Carole Giangrande (Inanna Publications)
 
About the book: Matthew Reilly is a lonely priest haunted by secrets. Young Alison is the shy and devoted keeper of Daisy, a falcon that suffered an accident and can no longer fly. When they meet in a Boston parish, Matt tells Alison about the day a decade ago when he missed the plane out of Logan Airport that tore into one of the Twin Towers. What he hasn't told her is that among the victims was a son that no one knew he'd fathered. With no confidantes and close to exhaustion, Matt suffers a heart attack, forcing him to reflect on what's become of his life. He recalls a teaching stint in Toronto a year earlier, his encounter with Gavin, a troubled and predatory man, and his discovery that his son had a male partner who had perished with him. He remembers returning to Boston, only to be perplexed by Alison and the affection that she and her beloved falcon draw from the homeless people who live on the Boston Common, but Matt has forgotten a momentary but fateful encounter with Alison eight years earlier in Toronto and it's only when her falcon frightens a child in the parish that even Alison begins to recall her terrifying ordeal years ago as a homeless person in Toronto. (Goodreads)
 
My Review:
Carole Giangrande’s writing is, as always, a sheer delight to read. And, from the moment I started it, I felt as if The Tender Birds was written with me in mind - my worldly dilemmas, my contemplations of this confusing and randomly unspiritual era into which we have been cast.
 
I was brought up Catholic and have been dismayed by the scandals of the Church, leading one to wonder, what, if any of the spirituality, was real?
 
In the flawed and very real Father Matt, I felt as if my questions were being addressed to the point where I wondered if Carole had seen inside my brain but how ridiculously egotistical! These are the questions of today’s world not just mine.
 
The Tender Birds is a beautiful, faith-affirming life affirming book that brings us back to the healing power of nature and the quiet magic of being human in a universe of God wonders despite our efforts to destroy it.

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THE WORLD'S LARGEST PERPETUALLY FULL BIRDFEEDER/BEEHIVE: A COLLECTION OF POEMS By David Armstrong (FriesenPress)
 
About the book: 

Life is inspiring, from the beauty and grandeur of nature to the vagaries of everyday life. This collection of poetry captures the moments that make us pause and reflect, putting into words those things that move us, whether to laughter or tears. With charm, humour, and an insight that comes only from a life well-lived, this collection speaks to this journey we all take together, told through thoughtful and well-crafted verses, and it encourages us to stop and take note of the landmarks along the way.... (Goodreads) 

My Review: 
Why do I love poetry and appreciate poets so much? For their succinct summations of the wrongs that ail the world.
 
Good poetry taps into the unspoken that should be spoken and The World's Largest Perpetually Full BirdFeeder/Beehive: A Collection Of Poems does exactly that. This is a voice of angst and rage, a welcome manifest of righteous accusations in troubled times.
 
Politics, loneliness, social media, the thievery of corporations, the mystery of electricity, the wisdom of cartoon characters and a texting God all speak in this collection. This  is the voice of Beat poetry now, a refreshing read.
 
I agree that "we are all smarting ourselves to death" but you never know – poetry might yet save the day.