LOVERS FALL BACK TO EARTH A hilarious misconception of youth is that life gets increasingly simple as you age. There is the assumption that the actions of your past and present will slip into interlocking puzzle-piece perfection and you will effortlessly canoe across the mirrored calm of a still lake, with the trees backlit on a sunny afternoon and the birds singing a happy chorus.
 
Or you believe I’ll be old, I won’t care and even if I do, it won’t matter. You think that your hopes and dreams and desires will become as politely as invisible as you imagine you yourself will feel and your reward for getting old will be a life of untangled placid yet satisfying adventure.
 
Nothing could be further from the truth. Life is the same tangled mess as it ever was and not only that but you’re dragging your unwieldy past behind you, like a tired Santa leaving a Goodwill, hoping to convince the crowds that his gifts are the shiny new real deal and not the dented and chipped relics from a bygone era.
 
And this is where the power and strength and beauty of Cecilia Frey’s writing lies. Frey takes youthful assumptions, the relentless passing of time, the pervasive culture that surrounded one during those formative years and she adds to it the complicated plots and subplots of siblingness and the result is an extremely well-crafted, fine tale.
 
The writing itself is inspiring. I’ve read a number of books lately in which POV is switched back and forth and Frey uses this in Lovers Fall Back to Earth and proves herself the master. It’s as if you slip inside the skin of each character and feel how their bodies move, where it aches and what brings pleasure. You feel the switchblade of conflicted emotions and the resolve thereof.
 
Ultimately, this is a hopeful, feel-good book. Santa doesn’t get mowed down by the avalanche of his weighty load. He (or she!) makes peace with the past – even when that means not making peace with it – and moves on, with a flowered pedicure and a fantastic glass of wine! And if this sounds cryptic, well, you’ll have to read the book!  
ELECTRIC FENCES In a land such as South Africa, is it possible to ever understand the complex consequences of injustice, cruelty and racial discrimination? How can one right the wrongs of the past and the present and in some way forge a new country, one that is  governed and run with respect for the individual, equality, stability, prosperity and peace?
 
The fallout from colonialism and apartheid, along with the forces of greed and the resultant corruption of power, have all come together to create an uneasy no man's land - more realistically, a no woman’s land because of the heavy-handed patriarchy.
 
Electric Fences is a a highly recommended read for anyone who'd like to understand the psyche and workings of a damaged and bruised land, a land that is birthplace to exiles who remain and exiles who leave. 
    
BLACK AND WHITE I’m not sure if readers of ​​​​​​​​​​The Minerva Reader recall reading a post about Wubit Zewdu, author a book I spotted in the Enat Convenience Store on the Danforth? The post was also on Goodreads, so please check it out! Here is the followup but first, an excerpt to contextualize: 
 
"I saw a fascinating book with a girl on the cover, a girl with a crow on one shoulder, a dove on the other, her hair a white braid on the left, a black braid on the right, an owl to her right foot and a rooster receiving benediction from her outstretched left hand. She is holding scales in her other hand and her torso rises from a tree, with two leaves modestly covering her breasts. Four stars dot the sky and clouds from which she ascends. A moon is a crown on her forehead, a half-dark, half-white moon. What is this book?
 
The book is written in a language I cannot understand. It looks Arabic. I am disappointed. I will never know what the book contains. I look up ‘Ethiopian language’ when I get home and Wikipedia tells me that “Amharic is spoken principally in the central highlands of the country. Amharic is an Afro-Asiatic language of the Southwest Semitic group and is related to Geʿez, or Ethiopic, the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox church; it also has affinities with Tigré, Tigrinya, and the South Arabic dialects.

The interior of the book is beautifully designed, there is a faded image of the girl on each page, with a border and carefully spaced type.”
 
Well, I found the author! Her name is Wubit Zewdu and we had a great chat. Wubit is a twenty-six year-old refugee from Addis Ababa. She got her degree in Folklore and Journalism at Abbis Ababa University and is now a social worker here in Toronto where she has lived for two and a half  years. 
 
The book, Black and White, is a collection of a hundred poems and the theme is balance. Wubit explained to me that Amharic (the language in which the collection is written), is far more complex than English, and one word can hold several hidden ideas and messages. 
 
Wubit’s work is influenced by the work of  Gebre Kristos Desta (1932–1981) (also Gebrekristos Desta) was an Ethiopian modern artist. He was also known as a poet and the father of modern Ethiopian art. Both his paintings and his poems unleashed waves of controversy. He died young at 50 but during his short life he transformed Ethiopian art and continues to influence today's generation of artists on many levels. 
 
Wubit started writing poetry while she was in Grade 5, at the age of eleven. When she was fifteen, she was walking to school one day and she found a stone painted with the yin yang sign and this became the inspiration for her poetry. 
 
Wubit explained the the book cover to me, the artwork created by Nicholas Franklyn. Life is all about balance and how we can choose to find good in a bad situation, or choose to find bad in a good situation. The Earth is our mother and she loves us all equally and most of the struggles we have in life are in our own heads. 
 
Wubit also explained that we have such traditional ways of thinking – we think in terms of curses and punishment, we live in fear. If we could stop this fear-driven way of thinking, we would be much happier. But people fear giving up their traditional ways of thinking and this includes the fear-driven way of living. If we could all learn to love ourselves, we would be much happier and at peace. 
 
The poems vary in length, the title poem of the collection, Black and White, is six pages long. I have asked Wubit if she would be interested in translating two of her poems and reading them at a Secret Tartan Turban Event that I will be hosting at the end of the year and I very much look forward to hearing her work. 

THE DICTIONARY OF ANIMAL LANGUAGES Let me start by saying that I loved ​​​​​​​The Dictionary of Animal Languages by Heidi Sopinka (Penguin Random House) for all the reasons that Steven Beattie didn’t! 
 
Here’s the excerpt I am referring to, from the review in the Quill & Quire:

… “Unfortunately, these dramatic elements are subsumed by a prose style that tries too hard, shows too little, and tends to have an alienating effect on the reader. In Sopinka’s novel, night “jewels in.” Lev’s hand “detains” Frame’s ankle. The “world drops away” and Frame is “filled with these sonorities, this opalescence.” This kind of romantic overwriting reaches its apogee late in the novel when Frame hears laundry flapping in the wind: “The sound reminds me of Lev saying listen to nothing but the sound of your own heart beating when there is the nuptial flight of turtledoves high and circling, the whipcrack of their downward-flicked wings against the grey sky.”

At the other end of the spectrum, we are offered a series of pithy aphorisms (“Time does not heal, it medicates”; “Age makes you sensitive as a Geiger counter”) and anodyne observations (“Isn’t the very definition of insanity repeating the same thing over and over again in the same way, expecting a different result”). These are embedded in a narrative that refuses to allow itself the luxury of forward momentum, instead becoming bogged down in rumination and self-conscious intellectualizing.

This languid quality is exacerbated by another aspect, one that is somewhat surprising in a novel that derives so much stimulus from Leonora Carrington’s life and work. Though Carrington’s imaginative output – and most especially her short stories – could be remarkably funny, The Dictionary of Animal Languages is almost entirely devoid of humour. It is as though Sopinka feels that the only appropriate approach to her themes – love, art, aging, existence – is to adopt and maintain a pose of artificial high seriousness. Looking at Lord Candlestick, or reading Carrington’s story “The Debutante,” one is initially shocked by the content, then moved to guffaw at the absurdity of its presentation. In Sopinka’s version, the heightened prose and relative lack of dramatic incident tend to preclude either of these reactions.”

I am particularly careful to not look at reviews before I read a book (in order to not colour my own reactions) but, once I’ve read a book, I’m curious to see what others have to say about it and, as I say, I loved the book for the very reasons Steven Beattie didn’t. I was immediately drawn in by the prose, the vivid imagery and of course, the story. 
 
The philosophical observations are cleverly woven into the fabric of the thing so as to read like a natural part of the thread and I found the insights fascinating. I knew, while reading the book, that there were countless references and quotes to and about other artists but I decided to read as a work of pure fiction, without sources or links to real life. The book examines love, poetry, art, obsession, animals, family, ageing, friendship and the meaning of life – all of it as poetic and visceral as listening to Patti Smith’s Horses while sitting under a tree in a wild thunderstorm. 
 
The only criticism I had was that the profound loneliness of the human condition was perhaps focused on for seemingly too long, particularly with regard to the aspects of aging, loss, memory and family. But, if the love and joy were written in such a moving way, then equally would be the sadness and sorrow. The overarching message was profound and beautifully written, the book speaks to your heart and carries you on a cinematic journey of an artistic life. 
 
I recently read Fugue in Green by Brenda Clews and while Fugue in Green tells a completely different story to The Dictionary of Animal Languages, both books feature nature as character (in a surreal manner), and both pay attention to our duties and responsibilities as well as the consequences of our being part of the human race on Earth, an experience we largely forget or disregard. 

13 CLAWS is the third anthology penned by the Mesdames of Mayhem and I've been meaning to do a shoutout for the anthology – and now I've got even more reason!​
13 Claws had a fab FOUR nominations in the Arthur Ellis Awards: Cathy Astolfo, Jane Burfield and Sylvia Warsh for Best Short Story and M. H. Callway for Best Novella! And Cathy Astolpho won the award for Best Short Story and believe me, it's an insanely creepy read! 
The stories in 13 Claws range from thrillers to cozies to noir and what all the stories have in common is that they centre on animals. Fifteen authors have penned 17 fantastic tales (pun intended), featuring cats, dogs, snakes, an exotic fish and a dragon! 


DOWNWARD THIS DOG by Sanjay Talreja (Mawenzi House).

This year, I plan to read the works of more diverse Canadian writers and I’d like to thank Mawenzi House for supporting The Minerva Reader in this quest. 
I loved the short stories in this collection. From the very start, you’ll be gripped by the poignant tension and the vivid writing that engages all the senses.

Downward this Dog perfectly describes the immigrant experience, the difficulty in integrating, the rapture of the seasons, the orderly politeness, the quiet Canadian welcome. While far away, war rages with bombs and violence.

And Downward this Dog is also hilarious! I loved the insights, the creeping disillusion, funny despair and self awareness, as well as the insights into the Westernization of yoga. 
Downward this Dog is a beautifully written, insightful testament to the bravery of ordinary life, exploring themes of religion, family, love, marriage, money, success and failure.
"We will make a mix of flavours and dishes, but always with a hyphen. So it will be Italian-Tamil dishes or Punjabi-Spanish; instead of hiding in the kitchens, we'll show our faces to the public." – from The Kick. 

"And then, the journey back in the fading evening light. All of us strangely quiet, hypnotized by the unending expanse of snow-covered fields and the grey wet tarmac of the roads, and the lulling sound of the engine. All of us enveloped in our own thoughts—reminding us that the life we had glimpsed was only a brief moment and our yearning for home would have to lie buried deep within us. Bleak?" – from Downward this Dog.

"For all of those who struggle in the trenches—if experience has taught me anything, it is this: there is no other way." – Acknowledgements. 

DESCENT INTO DARKNESS
by Edem Awumey (Mawenzi House Publishers). 

​Wow. This book just blew me away. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness meets The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Richard Flanagan's Winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize) meets The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño.
Bleak, yes, with its visceral descriptions of man's unfathomably extensive ability to torture and destroy his fellowmen. 

The poetical lyricism of the work intensifies the power of the horror of the story being told. The prose is an unflinching spotlight that shines directly into that morass of unspeakable events. 

One of the most powerful works I have read this year. Let's try to give this book the attention I truly feel it deserves. 

And kudos to the translators, Phyllis Aronoff & Howard Scott. A wonderful job. 


A MATTER OF GEOGRAPHY by Jasmine D'Costa (Mosaic Press). 

​Rare is the adult who lives in the same world as that of their youth. Take the fallout from Colonialism and mash it up with the disarray and fury of the powerhouses of organized religions – those are the seeds from which our current world bears fruit. 
 
The ever-prevalent power class pays careful homage to societal strata which are still as solidly in place as ever, they’re simply better hidden by a shield of platitudes that subscribes to the banner-bearing cause du jour.
 
And witness the erosion of faith by the betrayal of religious leaders to whom we turned for guidance and structure. All of these, along with family, friendship, tradition, love, history, mathematics and the notion of reality are what makes A Matter of Geography such a fine work. 
 
I was riveted from the start by this book. It pulled me in with its cinematically beautiful writing and warm, rich characters. 

FUGUE IN GREEN
 by Brenda Clews (Quattro) is a marvellous, magical treat! Exquisite writing takes you by the hand and leads you into this secret, surreal garden of wonder and delight.​

"Let the imagination go - see what is crawling, blooming, bursting out of the edges of the world. Take seeing back to before you knew a tree was a tree, or that the chair was from the tree that was. Let the world be lights and colours, undefined, without perspective or time; a marvellous vista, explore." But there is darkness, hardship, cruelty and abuse: "Reality was unrelentingly hard." Two children live at the mercy of a controlling, vicious matriarch, with an absent father. The whirling crisis of anger and hatred reaches a powerful crescendo and climaxes. 

Fugue in Green would be a perfect work for a Guillermo del Toro-style director, as the work is filled with symbolism, nature and metaphor. Much like Ofelia in Pan's Labyrinth, Steig, the teenage girl, bonds with nature and is protected and guided by the animals and inhabitants of that fantastical world. There is fantastic Dali-esquse imagery: "The greening infiltrated her. Separations between person and field disappeared, so there was only one field with an indistinct human shape of the same substance. When the sun shone, she turned to the power and energy of the light suffusing her cells. She was a leaf, a twig, a whirl of wind, the pink petal of a bee-pollinated flower. She was of the arborescent greening of the world, it shaped her." 

A strong story arc creates mounting tension, observed in the narrative by Stieg's father Reb, with his desire to turn painful life into a meaningful work of art via film: "… they could compose the story as a gothic fairy tale. A gothic fairy tale that was replete with a cruel witch and a maiden in distress."

Stieg's observation echoes her father's: "The process of making their film was helping her to integrate what was fragmented within, to keep the warring voices, memories, desires and humiliations in her from splitting her apart. It gave her a story, a narrative, to organize the chaos within."

And, isn't that the point of most art? 

Erotic and sensual, extraordinarily vivid and imaginative, Fugue in Green is a magical treat indeed.

​​In what should be titled THREE FEATURED BOOKS, I have three lovely, fascinating and entirely different reads to offer you, a trifecta of fabulous writing: The Muslimah who Fell to Earth (personal stories by Canadian Muslim Women) edited by Saima S.Hussain (Mawenzi House), Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact and Speculation by Terri Favro (Skyhorse Publishing) and Rituals of Parsing by Jade Wallace (Anstruther Press).

THE MUSLIMAH WHO FELL TO EARTH  (personal stories by Canadian Muslim Women) edited by Saima S.Hussain (Mawenzi House)
 
What a powerhouse of moving stories. Each story tells of a life, a family, and many families behind that, of homes left behind, homes forged out of nothing.  And too, love, faith, religion and choices.
 
This book is all about choices - the ones we want to make, the others we are forced to.
 
Often, when I take public transport, I look at the women around me and I wonder about their lives. I want to ask them about their stories, I wish they could tell me about their lives. Many of them look as tired as I feel (and as I probably look too!) and I want to say ‘I understand, let’s share a moment, let’s get off this bus and talk about our lives. How did we get here, to this faraway land of long winters and salt-crusted windows and acres of mud?’ But of course I can’t say that! But reading this book was like having a bus pull over and the women all piled out and we sat and had coffee and listened to the tales of each other’s lives.
 
Before I read each story, I went to the bio in order to get a sense of the author, to feel closer to the narrator. And with each, stories of such hardship, such courage, such faith and such joy.
 
I loved what Carmen Taha Jarrah said in Finding God, Finding Me: “Reading is the one thing we can do to grow and to remedy what ails our planet.”
 
One of my favourite stories was Letters to Rumi by Meharoona Ghani. “Dear Rumi, What if you were caught in a hairball?” With hilarious internal narrative and bluntly honest observations, her bio says Meharoona Ghani is working on a book Letters to Rumi which I very look forward to reading.
 
And Azmina Kassam, A Muslim's Womans Perspective, said it best: “writing allows one an intimate lens into the spaces that are intimate and private so that ‘we may realize our common humanity through these words and these stories.’ ”
 
Thank you Mawenzi House for giving me the opportunity to read and review this lovely, relevant, insightful work.
 
GENERATION ROBOT by Terri Favro (Skyhorse Publishing)

Fascinating. Brilliantly written and hilarious, with sharp-as-a-tack insights, observations, past, present and future. 

I haven’t enjoyed a book this much since Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn: A Father, a Daughter, the Meaning of Nothing, and the Beginning of Everything by Amanda Gefter. That book, about which this was said, “In a memoir of family bonding and cutting-edge physics for readers of Brian Greene's The Hidden Reality and Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?, Amanda Gefter tells the story of how she conned her way into a career as a science journalist--and wound up hanging out, talking shop, and butting heads with the world's most brilliant minds”, was voted one of the Best Books of the Year by Kirkus Reviews and, in my opinion, as should Generation Robot.

This is essential (and highly entertaining and thoroughly researched) reading in a time when the fantasies of Black Mirror are more like a dire prognosis of what our future holds and Electric Dreams brings Philip K. Dick’s insanely unreal stories into the realm of the scarily real.
And Favro’s personal spin draws the reader in, we sit at the table having lunch with the family, chatting about robots, workplace safety and the impending nuclear war.

One of Favro’s greatest strengths as a writer (and she has many) is to create such a vivid sense of time and place. Her writing is itself a time machine whisking you back into the past and hurtling you into the future.

Generation Robot also a lovely homage and tribute to Attilio ‘Tee’ Favro, Terri’s father and to the workplace and lifestyle of the 50's.

You’ll learn all kinds of interesting things in this documentation of pop culture through the decades – a lot of which was a trip down memory lane, dating me, no doubt!

And, for those fearful of reading the book in case the prognosis is dire, fear not, we humans hold the cards, the future is ours, and what an interesting future it is!
 
And last but never least,

RITUALS OF PARSING by Jade Wallace (Anstruther Press)
 
What an achingly beautiful collection of poems.
If I were to tattoo lines of poetry on my arms, I would make my sections from these poems. How can a person write an entire movie into a poem – soundtrack included? Well, Jade Wallace does just that.

I am reminded of Ryan Gosling and Zack Shield’s Dead Man’s Bones, which was created in collaboration with the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir – Wallace’s poems have that same echoey choral hauntedness to them, there are ghosts at every turn, ‘freaky baby ghost feet’ that follow luckless love and the loss it leaves.

I was quite addicted to Dead Man’s Bones, as I am with Rituals of Parsing – each reading reveals greater depths and new visions. With each reading, a new film plays before my eyes. A visual and haunting treat of a read.


​​A HANDBOOK FOR BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE: Beautifully written, the most compelling aspect for me, about this book, is the unflinching realism. You’re ever aware of a sense of inevitable catastrophe, all of which is realized (and then some),  as the dominoes start to fall. 


Twenty-two-year-old Marla is a perfect mix of naiveté, optimism and reckless foolhardy expectations. And yet, when you least expect it, she rallies and shows that world that she’s got some real fight in her, she really might have the seeds of what it takes to be a survivor and go the distance in life, despite the weight of her unchosen (and chosen) burdens. 
The book also explores the complex relationship between the family one is born into and the family who takes you in. I’ve always felt dismayed by the assumptions that birth family trumps that of chosen family and A Handbook for Beautiful People explores this theme from the various points of view.


The character I felt the most empathy for was Marla’s brother, Gavin. Gavin tries the hardest and he crashes to the lowest depths. A Handbook for Beautiful People is not an easy read but it is a worthy, memorable one. This book is not about happy endings, it’s about young lives that start out disadvantaged and spiral further. I would be extremely interested in a sequel. What happens to Liam, Marla, Dani, Gavin and Kamon? One wishes them the very best. 


THE HIGH-RISE IN FORT FIERCE 
About the book: 
A gritty, Canadian Cormac McCarthy. A rich interplay between the characters and their surroundings, an environment that swarms the characters, sometimes inflicting harm.
Drugs. Violence. Racism. Despair. The tiny, northern town of Fort Fierce has issues in spades, and most of them fester in the high-rise by the lake.
In this visceral, emotionally raw, and completely absorbing collection, Carlucci takes his readers through the ravaged history of Franklin Place, from its construction during the Cold War to its demolition decades later. We meet the Franklins themselves, three generations of landlords, each more paranoid and alienated than the last. And we meet their tenants: a drug dealer, a lonely bigot, a political activist, a struggling father, a wandering sex offender, a woman who refuses to give into it all. They wander in and out of each other's lives, with little in common but the building and the mould behind its walls.

In The High-Rise in Fort Fierce, Carlucci immerses us in a dim yet eerily familiar world. Love and death, conflict and compromise, fear, determination, and the tense relations between indigenous and settler populations thread the warp and weft of his dark and irrepressible tapestry. We cannot look away. 

My review: 
This book! If you ask me, it’s got ReLit Winner written all over it! Kudos PaulCarlucci for chiseled prose that breaks your heart and makes your eyes bleed! This is the new noir at it's best!


STILL MINE AND STILL WATER by Amy Stuart are both commercial successes and can hardly be considered to be hidden treasures but I enjoyed them both so much that I wanted to feature them on The Minerva Reader. And, bonus, I contacted Amy Stuart with a few questions and she kindly took the time to be interviewed for The Minerva Reader!
To contextualize each book (taken from Goodreads)
Still Mine:
Clare is on the run. 
From her past, from her ex, and from her own secrets. When she turns up alone in the remote mining town of Blackmore asking about Shayna Fowles, the local girl who disappeared, everyone wants to know who Clare really is and what she's hiding. As it turns out, she's hiding a lot, including what ties her to Shayna in the first place. But everyone in this place is hiding something from Jared, Shayna's golden-haired ex-husband, to Charlie, the charming small-town drug pusher, to Derek, Shayna's overly involved family doctor, to Louise and Wilfred, her distraught parents.
Did Shayna flee? Was she killed? Is it possible she's still alive?
As Clare uncovers the mysteries around Shayna's disappearance, she must confront her own demons, moving us deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of lies and making us question what it is she's really running from. Twisting and electrifying, this is a get-under-your-skin thriller that will make you question what it means to lose yourself and find yourself in the most unlikely places.

Still Water:
Sally Proulx and her young boy have mysteriously disappeared in the stormy town of High River. Clare is hired to track them down, hoping against all odds to find them alive. But High River isn’t your typical town. It’s a place where women run to—women who want to escape their past. They run to Helen Haines, a matriarch who offers them safe haven and anonymity. Pretending to be Sally’s long-lost friend, Clare turns up and starts asking questions, but nothing prepares her for the swirl of deception and the depth of the lies.

Did Sally drown? Did her son? Was it an accident, or is their disappearance part of something bigger?

In a town where secrets are crucial to survival, everyone is hiding something. Detectives Somers and Rourke clearly have an ulterior motive beyond solving the case. Malcolm Boon, who hired Clare, knows more about her than he reveals. And Helen is concealing a tragic family history of her own. As the truth surges through High River, Clare must face the very thing she has so desperately been running from, even if it comes at a devastating cost. Compulsively gripping and twisty, Still Water is a deep dive of a thriller that will leave you breathless.

-.-

LdN: Of course the most obvious question is this: will there be a third novel (or more!)? And if so, can you tell us about it/them.
 
AM: Yes! A third (and final) novel is underway. Just like Still Water did, the third book will pick up where the previous one left off, but I’ll do my best to write it so that any reader picking it up on its own doesn’t feel completely lost. 
 
LdN: Over the course of the two novels, your protagonist Clare shows a great deal of personal growth. Was her characterization planned from the start or did it unfold as her story was written? Tell us about Clare and how you came up with creating her. 
 
AM: I created Clare because I wanted to see a thriller novel centered around a complex female lead, one with a deep personal history and tendencies and coping mechanisms that reflect that history. About 100 pages into the process of writing Still Mine, it occurred to me that I would not be able to wrap up Clare’s story in only one novel. I wasn’t sure how many it would take, but I knew more than one. She begins the journey in a deep personal struggle, and I knew I wanted the arc of the series to fundamentally be about her growth and healing. So I committed myself to writing enough books to get her there.
 
LdN: You very artfully place the novels in a North American setting that could be Canada or the U.S. Was this deliberate on your part, as a marketing tactic? I believe, for example, that Linwood Barclay was strongly encouraged by his agent to set his books in the U.S. - was it the same for you? 
 
AM: At first this happened unintentionally. In the editing process for Still Mine, I found myself cutting out the sections that defined the location more clearly because they weren’t helping move the plot forward. The more that happened, the more I realized that it was beneficial to the story to have the location unclear enough that the reader could choose to place it as they see fit. This was done not from a marketing perspective so much as from an imagination one. I’ve heard from readers who thought it was in the Rocky Mountains in BC and others who pictured Virginia. I love that the story bends its place for the reader. Certainly no one at the editorial level insisted I do it either way, but I don’t think it hurt the books US prospects that the location was ambiguous. 
 
LdN: Your novels are thrillers but they also tackle important social issues such as abused women, dysfunctional families and drugs. What part of the novel writing comes more naturally to you - the societal issues or the thriller/plotting aspects?
 
Neither came particularly naturally to me at first. It was very important for me to authenticate the social issues, so I did a lot of reading and watching and listening to stories so that Clare’s experience would ring true. I think plotting is a trick that can be learned to some degree. I’m very lucky to have an experienced editor who’s been able to coach me on how much to reveal and how much to pull back so that the plot unfolds at the right pace.
 
LdN: Would you consider writing a novel without Clare and if so, what would it be about? (This question can merge into the first one, if you like.)
 
AM: I have ideas for novels beyond Clare, but right now they are hard to articulate or talk about. It almost feels like cheating on Clare to discuss what will happens when her story is done!
 
LdN: Can you name Canadian writers who have inspired you and can you tell us a bit about why they did? 
 
AM: Going way back, I have always been inspired by Alice Munro. She is the absolute master of writing plot into a small space. Like no other writer, she can create rich stories in only a few dozen pages. More recently, a crop of Canadian thriller and mystery writers have emerged and I’m inspired by them every day. They include Iain Reid, Nathan Ripley, Laurie Petrou, Roz Nay, Louise Penny, Shari Lapena and many more!
 
LdN: Malcolm Boon is a fascinating, enigmatic character and so is his relationship with Clare. Can you tell us about how you came up with him?
 
AM: With Malcolm I wanted a character who felt very frustrating and tough to know. We meet people like that all the time, and I didn’t want to fall into the trap of giving him away too fast. His enigmatic ways are a big part of the story and the plot and of Clare’s struggles. In earlier versions of Still Minea lot more about Malcolm was revealed, so it took time to scale him back. But don’t worry, the third book will blow things wide open. 
 
LdN: What, for you, are the toughest challenges when it comes to writing and what are your greatest joys?
 
AM: My greatest challenge without a doubt is time. This year I’ve been working full-time as a high school teacher, and my second novel was released, and I have three kids. So finding the time is a constant struggle and not one I’m very good at. The joys are the moments where something finally lands. That scene or plot point that’s felt nagging or impossible and suddenly I just figure it out. It’s a rare enough event to feel truly special when it happens. 
 
I thank Amy for taking the time to chat with me today on The Minerva Reader and I look forward to novel #3!




Bats or Swallows

Bats or Swallows by Teri Vlassopoulos (Invisible Publishing).

Bats or Swallows is a treasure I nearly missed! Published in 2010 by Invisible Publishing, I was truly delighted and enthralled by these stories!

I met Teri at the Tartan Turban Reading series and, after hearing her read her short story, I rushed off and got my hands on a copy of the book. 

With huge apologies to Forest Gump (and those of you out there who are tired of the analogy), there are times when a good book of short stories is like a box of chocolates. And I mean the good kind, like marzipan-filled Belgian chocolate, not that Hershey's-encased strawberry pink gunk which will light up the inside of your eyeballs like a neon sign, from sugar overkill.

No, reading this book was more akin to eating Mozart balls accompanied by a lovely latte on a cold winter's day!

I'm looking forward to doing a lot more reading and posting on The Minerva Reader in 2018. I planned to do a lot of reading over the Christmas holidays but I ended up writing more than I read! Which is fine by me – when the muse knocks on my door, I rush to answer her call!

But I'll have books coming from far and wide across Canada this year, and I hope you'll join me in celebrating them. 

And don't forget to pick up a copy of Bats or Swallows! Each story is a real treat. I look forward to reading Escape Plans by Teri, (Invisible Publishing).