Library of 2019 Features
A HARSH AND PRIVATE BEAUTY by Kate Kelly (Inanna Publications)
About the book: A Harsh and Private Beauty, is about the life and loves of Ruby Grace, now in her 89th year, on a train journey with her granddaughter back to Chicago, the city of her birth. When the book opens, Ruby is living in a retirement care home, but as a young woman, she was a jazz and blues singer, once trained for a career in opera. The novel traces Ruby's grandparent's immigration from Ireland to New York City, her father, Daniel Kenny's life in 1920s Chicago--the era of gangsters, nightclubs, rum-running and Prohibition--and Ruby's subsequent life in Montreal and Toronto. Headstrong and talented, Ruby struggled with the conventions of the times, was trapped in a marriage that forced her to give up her singing career, and in love with another man who shares her passion for music. Now, on the train headed back to a city she cannot remember, to a daughter she hardly knows, Ruby tries to look honestly at herself and the choices she has made, choices that affected not only her children, but her grandchildren. Ruby has a stroke on route, leaving the disconnected story of her life and love in the hands of her granddaughter, Lisa, who must reveal a secret to her father, Ruby's son, that her grandmother guarded all her life. (Goodreads)
Book Reviewed by award-winning fiction writer and literary translator Susan Ouriou, author of Damselfish and Nathan and translator of Blue Bear Woman and The Body of the Beasts among others.
In spoken-word artist Kate Kelly's first novel, A Harsh and Private Beauty, Ruby Grace invites readers into her life even as she cautions them that "the storyteller tries to make life acceptable, but . . . in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw." So the story of 1920s Chicago—gangsters, nightclubs and Prohibition—and present-day Toronto and Montreal unfolds with the lies that are woven into Ruby's private life as a mother, wife and lover and her public life as a renowned jazz and blues singer. In the end, however, those lies have much to reveal about the truth.

ALL WE KNEW BUT COULDN'T SAY by Joanne Vannicola (Dundurn)
About the book: Joanne Vannicola grew up in a violent home with a physically abusive father and a mother who had no sexual boundaries. After Joanne is pressured to leave home at fourteen, encouraged by her mother to seek out an acting career, she finds herself in a strange city, struggling to cope with her memories and fears. She makes the decision to cut her mother out of her life, and over the next several years goes on to create a body of work as a successful television and film actor. Then, after fifteen years of estrangement, Joanne learns that her mother is dying. Compelled to reconnect, she visits with her, unearthing a trove of devastating secrets. (Goodreads)

Joanne relates her journey from child performer to Emmy Award-winning actor, from hiding in the closet to embracing her own sexuality, from conflicted daughter and sibling to independent woman. All We Knew But Couldn’t Say is a testament to survival, love, and Joanne’s fundamental belief that it is possible to love the broken and to love fully, even with a broken heart. 

Book Reviewed by Farzana Doctor, author of the forthcoming Seven (Dundurn, Aug 2020).
 Vannicola's storytelling is well-paced, seamlessly moving between childhood and adult memories. Her prose is tight and evocative and passionate without being preachy. I was particularly stirred by Vannicola's poignant and intelligent reflections on trauma and oppression and how they made meaning of these experiences. The story--of a queer non-binary child actor--is both unique and universal.

A SAFE GIRL TO LOVE by Casey Plett (Topside Press)
About the book: Eleven unique short stories that stretch from a rural Canadian Mennonite town to a hipster gay bar in Brooklyn, featuring young trans women stumbling through loss, sex, harassment, and love. These stories, shiny with whiskey and prairie sunsets, rattling subways and neglected cats, show growing up as a trans girl can be charming, funny, frustrating, or sad, but never will it be predictable. (Goodreads)
Book Reviewed by Lisa de Nikolits, author of The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution (Inanna Publications)
Razor sharp, heartbreaking, searing and brilliant. When you read these stories, you live in these bodies, not just physically but emotionally, spiritually. The angst push and pull of desire and resistance, longing and hate. A constant battle to find a place to be and not be in the world. Of tangled familial relations, religions, traditions, gender, sex, societal expectations, friendships, love, magnetic and raw attraction, complications and contradictions. Utterly unflinching and beautiful.
“… we are all human and therefore we are all the same. EXACTLY THE SAME.”
And! A book with Advocaat! That in itself makes me love it.
And in case you haven’t read it, be sure to check out the Little Fish, WINNER, Lambda Literary Award; Firecracker Award for Fiction; $60,000 Amazon Canada First Novel Award, (Arsenal Pulp Press)


CROSS YOUR HEART by Judy Kirwin (Word Alive Press)

About the book: What is at the heart of cyberbullying? Fifteen-year-old Kyle Newman is about to find out. After hearing the shocking news that a classmate committed suicide due to online harassment, Kyle believes his insulting Facebook message was the cause. He races home to cover up his involvement, but then is struck by a truck and plunged into another world.

Helplessly trapped, Kyle concludes this is his just punishment, but everything changes when a mysterious stranger comes to his rescue. Kyle is challenged to go on a difficult journey where his choices will determine his destiny. Will he discover a crossroads leading to forgiveness from his crippling guilt? Or will he miss the signs?

Book Reviewed by Lisa de Nikolits, author of The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist's Solution. 
I truly believe that books come to us when we need them. Books find their readers, particularly when those books bear an important message. In this instance, a chance meeting in an elevator led to a discussion which led to this book coming my way. Yes, this book is about teenagers and cyberbullying but this allegorical tale would do well to be read by all. Spiritual messages, as they impact the practical, daily challenges of life and relationships, are rare finds, in a time when one-click likes and emoticons are the pervasive method of communication. Also, it is seen as being 'less cool' to admit to a desire for spirituality. I say it's time to discuss the tougher aspects of faith and hope and this book does exactly that. I have a niece and nephew of 10 and 8 and I plan to send this book to them because lessons in kindness to one another can never be learned soon enough. Cross your Heart's finely-penned taut prose is rich in imagery and vivid storytelling. 
GRAVEYARD SHIFT by Melissa Yi (Windtree Press: Olo Books)
About the book:
Drugs. Alcohol. Violence. Chaos.
All in a night’s work for Dr. Hope Sze, aspiring Montreal emergency physician—until someone tries to strangle her with her own stethoscope.
Then Hope’s lover disappears.
A second woman barely escapes throttling before her beloved vanishes too.
Hope slogs through the pneumonia and hemorrhoid patients cramming the ER while a psychopath stalks the empty, post-midnight hallways of St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Waiting. Waiting patiently.
Until everything explodes.
Book Reviewed by Judy Penz Sheluk, author of the Marketville and Glass Dolphin Mysteries
Emergency Physician and award-winning writer Melissa Yi is in top form in this seventh installment of her Dr. Hope Sze medical crime series. An aspiring ER physician, Hope is prepared for all that comes with covering the graveyard shift at a Montreal hospital—at least she thought so until this particular night.
Yi’s natural wit and humour shines through her effortless prose, while real-life medical knowledge educates and entertains in equal measure. Though part of an ongoing series, Graveyard Shift can definitely be read as a standalone. But readers beware: you’ll want to go back and read books 1 through 6. Why not add those to the stocking while you’re at it?
I'M NOT GOING BACK by Kitty Wintrob (Now & Then Books)
About the book: At the start of World War Two, thousands of school-children are evacuated from London to the British countryside before German bombs begin to fall. Kitty Simmonds, a spirited 10-year-old girl from the city's East End, isn't pleased to be leaving her Mum and jolly Uncle Yudi behind. Once in the countryside, she's stunned at the hardships she has to endure from her "foster parents" as she struggles to maintain her Jewish identity in an alien world. She's determined to escape back to her Mum and the relative comfort of their home, even as the sirens blare and the "Blitz" begins. A warm and gripping tale, marked by authenticity and adventure, and suitable for young readers as well as adults. (Goodreads)
Book Reviewed by Lisa de Nikolits, author of The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution (Inanana Publications)
Touching, heart-warming and the perfect read for the holiday season! It’s necessary and welcome reminder of past sufferings and trials that put our own lives into perspective.
I thoroughly enjoyed this journey with Kitty Simmonds and the beauty and fluency of the language made for a poetic read.
In a time of rampant consumerism and social media self-absorption, this novel is a marvellous reminder of the sacrifices others have made to make this world a better and safe place. Kitty Wintrob’s descriptions make me grateful for all the safety and modern conveniences we enjoy.
Just as this site is about unsung treasures, this tale is about the unsung heroes of the war, the men, women and children who suffered the losses of their loved ones and faced devastation and destruction daily. I’d love to see this as a film, like The Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman, but seen from Kitty Simmonds’s perspective.  
ROAD WARRIOR by Vivian Meyer, About the Book and Review by  (Reviewed by Jan Rehner, author of Missing Matisse, Inanna)
I really enjoy mystery novels that take place in Toronto, and most of the action here occurs in the particularly vibrant communities of Kensington Market and Little Italy. It’s great fun to “eat” your way through Road Warrior: lots of gourmet coffee at a local shop run by Mario (a beguiling character), pizzas at the Café Diplomatica and the Gatto Nero, Pho on Spadina, and a heavenly description of Vietnamese coffee that should be posted on Toronto tourism sites. There’s lots of bike lore too that will satisfy any aficionado, including the joys of the Humber Trail, and the perils of Toronto traffic. This is the third novel in the engaging Abby Faria series, and it won’t disappoint. While Abby, bike courier and amateur detective, hunts for the runaway son of her friend Maria, she must confront what she knows and doesn’t know about paedophilia. Throughout the novel, the italicized sections build suspense, and there’s a terrific twist at the end. Spoiler alert: Don’t read the full description of this book posted on Goodreads—it gives away too much of the ending.
SIMULTANEOUS WINDOWS by Mary Corkery (Inanna Publications)
About the book: Simultaneous Windows is a metaphoric and narrative journey, both personal and political, in which rebellion, love and loss open windows to change. Each window is a frame that through which we see the limits and possibilities of one small life. The voice is strong and the journey vivid. Poems are located in Toronto, Borneo, The Middle East, Rwanda and elsewhere. (Goodreads)
Book reviewed by Carole Giangrande, author of The Tender Birds and All That is Solid Melts Into Air
Mary Corkery’s first collection of poetry is a joy to read. She engages her subjects at a midpoint between the observant journalist and the soul engulfed in suffering; it’s detachment that remains connected and involvement that is never overwhelmed by its subject. The poetry is beautiful, filled with evocative language, specificity of detail and frequent startling endings that cause the reader to put the book down, take a deep breath and read the poem again. Highly recommended.
THE ALLSPICE BATH by Sonia Saikaley, (Inanna Publications)
About the Book: (From Inanna Publications)
It is 1970. The evergreens are thick with snow despite it being the month of April. In an Ottawa hospital, another daughter is born to the Azar family. The parents are from Kfarmichki, a village in Lebanon but their daughters were born in Canada. Four daughters, to be precise. No sons. Youssef is the domineering father. Samira is the quiescent mother. Rima, Katrina and Mona are the traditional daughters. Then there is Adele, the newest member. "You should’ve been born a boy," Samira whispers to Adele shortly after her entrance into the world. As she grows, Adele learns there are certain rules Lebanese girls must follow in order to be good daughters. First off, they must learn to cook, master housework, learn Arabic and follow the traditions of their culture. Above all, they must save themselves for marriage. But Adele dreams of being an artist. When she is accepted to the University of Toronto, this is her chance to have a life outside the confines of her strict upbringing. But can she defy her father?
Book Reviewed by Aparna Kaji Shah, author of The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories:
The Allspice Bath is a gripping novel that I just couldn’t put down. It is a powerful and moving depiction of the conflict between the values of the “old country” and the “new country”, the confrontation between generations, as well as the barbaric violence of the patriarchy that is horrifying. But it is also a coming of age story of the defiant Adele who finds her own voice in this conservative family, and who despite the odds, strikes out on her own; it is her resilience and courage that we cheer for, as also her compassion and sensitivity. Saikaley has breathed life into Adele so that we feel her every emotion, mood and thought, to the quick. It is a multi-faceted story that skilfully draws together the themes of the immigrant experience, the status of women, domestic abuse, and the growing strength and maturity of a young girl. And despite its darkness, it is in the final analysis, a novel about hope and freedom.
Book reviewed by Anita Kushwaha, IPPY award-winning author of Side by Side and Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters
Sonia Saikaley’s The Allspice Bath is a deeply-moving portrayal of family life and an intimate exploration of the ties that bind. From the first chapter, we are drawn into the vibrant lives of the Azar family, particularly the Azar sisters, first-generation Lebanese-Canadians who have a foot in the culture of their birth and another in that of their parents’. The result is at times a precarious balancing act, brought to life with compassion and realism through Adele, our counter-culture, free-thinking protagonist. Saikaley shows with vivid, and at times heart-breaking prose, what it takes for a young, modern woman to breakaway from tradition in pursuit of her own dreams. I felt like this was the book I needed as a young woman of colour growing up in a small town, struggling to live my dreams while balancing familial expectations. I connected strongly with Adele, who knows her own mind. I found myself envying her headstrong nature and confidence, and also, the loving and real connection between the Azar sisters. This book will resonate strongly with any reader who has felt torn by living between two worlds, made sacrifices to pursue a dream, or faced the hard truth that it is often the ones who love us the most that hurt us the deepest. However as Saikaley demonstrates with enviable pathos, when it comes to family, where there is love, forgiveness is always possible.

THE TENDER BIRDS by Carole Giangrande (Inanna Publications)

About the book: 
Matthew Reilly is a busy academic, a lonely priest haunted by secrets. Young Alison is the shy and devoted keeper of Daisy, a falcon which suffered an accident and can no longer fly. The three of them meet in a Boston parish, but Matt has forgotten a momentary but disturbing meetup with Alison, homeless eight years earlier in Toronto. Close to exhaustion, he’s forced to reflect on what’s become of his life, including the loss of a son that no one knew he’d fathered. Alison and Matt had a fateful encounter during her homeless period, but Matt doesn’t connect that frail teenager with the healthy young woman she’d become. It’s left to Alison to uncover Matt’s past and for Matt to come to terms with it. (Inanna Publications) 

Book Reviewed by Hannah Brown, author of Look After Her (Inanna)
Carole Giangrande seems to have been profoundly affected by the events of September 11. This book, The Tender Birds is a third novel of hers in which that event affects the movement of the story. It is by turn inwardly focussed and outwardly observant. It happens in old churches and deep ravines, among people reflecting upon their faith and following the dramatic presence of birds of prey, and despite its quiet tone, is dramatic in its revelations. The dialogue is true, as you would expect from a former broadcaster, and the passages of description are so beautiful, you want to re-read them and follow their flight again. A very satisfying read!

THE WAY TO GO HOME by Catharine Leggett (Urban Farmhouse Press)

About the book: A horseback riding accident in June, 1973 leaves Buddy Scott, the central character in The Way to Go Home, with a broken body in a remote ravine. As he awaits rescue, thinking that his life is about to end, his mind wanders into his past. His journey began at age thirteen, when he was suddenly orphaned along with eight other siblings. Unable to keep their Wyoming ranch, Buddy and his older brother, Ray, stay with an uncle, which turns out to be a harrowing ordeal that ends with them running away. What ensues is a road-adventure story that crosses the United States over a period of years. As drifters, Buddy and Ray encounter a host of engaging and unusual characters--from the poorest to the most elite, from shysters and connivers to decent folk. When Ray leaves to go back to the west, Buddy lands in Canada, where he finally sets down roots in the hopes of finding a place for himself. The idealized "home" inscribed deep in his heart through the stories of his childhood is not the one he makes for himself in Southern Ontario. A drifter's past and the scrappy lifestyle that accompanied it leads him off course, and he falls into self-destructive behaviour. His wife Meg and his four children can't restore something he lost long ago, and until he seeks his own personal redemption Buddy cannot find a sense of belonging. Home is not where he thought it would be. (Goodreads)
Book reviewed by Jocelyn Cullity, Amah & the Silk-Winged Pigeons; The Envy of Paradise, (Inanna Publications)
The Way to Go Home is a story about the travels and struggles of a drifter named Buddy who eventually lands in Southern Ontario. We follow Buddy as he seeks and finds what it means to be really at home in the world. 
Leggett evokes the physical beauty and danger of her cold, stormy landscapes – and lets us see deeply into the warm heart of her main character. Written by a writer who rides right alongside her scrappy characters, and who deeply loves them, Leggett displays a mature ability with novel structure. She is also a writer who spins sentences into gold. The Way to Go Home is a wonderful winter read.
TRAPS by Sky Curtis (Inanna Publications)
About the book: After dealing with the grizzly murder of a sexual assault victim near her cottage in Huntsville, Ontario, Robin MacFarland, the feisty Home and Garden reporter for a major Toronto paper, feels she must go elsewhere for a peaceful family holiday. She, her cop boyfriend Ralph, and her adult kids, travel to the beautiful long sand beaches on the South Shore of Nova Scotia for a few weeks in August. She continues to tussle hilariously with her weight, drinking, feelings towards her boyfriend, and spiritually while coping with a dry well in the cottage she's rented, systemic racism issues in the local population, and escalating anger towards the fish farms dotted along the shore which are destroying the lobster industry. A sensational murder of a local politician coupled with the "accidenta" death of the owner of the fish farms captures her interest. When she mentions the situation to her editor at the Toronto Express, her best friend Cindy, a crime reporter at the paper, is dispatched to cover the story. Again, Robin finds herself in the position of convincing everyone that the accidental death was no accident, that the two deaths are intertwined, and that the murder weapon is extremely ironic. (Goodreads)
Book Reviewed by Lisa de Nikolits, author of The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution (Inanna)
I always look forward to Robin MacFarland books so much! Her self-deprecating humour is absolutely hilarious! She’s one of the most original sleuth-by-mistake heroines to come along in a long time. And, as always, Sky Curtis weaves a fabulous plot, this time on the east coast. And if you haven’t yet read the others in series, you can read this book as a standalone – but since it’s the holiday season, why not treat yourself to the series?
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)
Book reviewed by Lisa de Book Reviewed by Lisa de Nikolits, author of The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution (Inanna)​
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 book 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. 


About the book:
Hilarity and queer magic realism twist th
e throttle when Jackie, a loner with a secret bank-robbing persona, meets Vespa: sexy, sculpture-welding artist and collector of vintage motorbikes. Still planning elaborate revenge on a New York ex-lover, Jackie tests both her new relationship and the loyalties of her friends, a rag-tag gang of post-punk eccentrics, realizing how love changes hatred only after her scheme runs out of control. An innocent misstep and an encrypted mystery swings the romance into the dangerous orbit of a construction mogul intent on subverting corporate money at any cost. (Inanna Publications)

My Review

Ursula Pflug (author of The Alphabet Stones, Motion Sickness and Mountain) has flagged this book to become a cult classic and I fully second that! I’m not sure it’s possible to adequately describe the joy of reading Steel Animals! The poetic brilliance of the writing, along with razor-sharp insights into art, love, sex, nature, relationships, consumerism, the perception of the self, the philosophy of art, our connections to one other and the things that surround us, is a real treat.

The writing sparks every sense to vivid life, cracking like Absolut cherry pop-rocks exploding on your tongue, delighting you at every turn.


About the book:

Sixty-two-year-old English professor Hugh Norman is getting ready to retire and just going through the motions. He's detached, irreverent, and quite pleased with himself. But then he learns of a long-lost friend's sudden death, and shockingly discovers a body while walking through a city park. Suddenly, over just a few days, Hugh is compelled to deal with a large cast of eccentric characters and a police detective who has taken a sudden interest in his life. With a perfect sense of comedic timing, An Exile's Perfect Letter is a portrait of a man forced to come of age all over again. It's a send-up, a love story, an elegy for lost youth, and a celebration of friendships that stand the test of time. (Breakwater Books)

My review:
The funny thing is, I thought I had posted about this book at the end of last year but I didn’t actually do it! I wrote the review in my head and I guess I imagined the rest! I met Larry Mathews at the FogLit Festival and immediately purchased his book. His reading was great and the book was a delight to read! It reminded me of my university days (which made me happy) and I loved Hugh Norman with his self-deprecating insights into aging, love, writing, poetry and life in St. John’s Newfoundland. I was sorry when the novel came to an end, I wanted to keep hanging out with Hugh! I loved the observations on writing and it made me stop (and worry!) that I had committed the sins that Hugh points out with such scathing clarity! A highly-enjoyable read with a lot of excellent humour about art, the politics of tenure, fame, crime and the meaning of life.


About the book:

Melissa Bull’s debut short story collection The Knockoff Eclipse hums with the immediacy of distant and future worlds. Firmly rooted in the streets and landmarks of Montreal and its many neighbourhoods and subcultures, Bull’s characters shine with the dirt of digging just deep enough.

Dark like Duras, flippant comme Sagan, with elements of the surreal running through, these Montreal stories are modern feminist fables for the reader who is decidedly uninterested in upholding the moral of the story as it’s been traditionally told. (Anvil Press)

My review:
The short stories in this are so powerful I had to pace reading them. They don’t hold back any punches and this book offers some of the most vivid ‘in another’s body’ experience I’ve read. You smell the sunburn, the lake water, the dirt, taste the tears, feel the cold and hear the voices as clearly as if the characters were standing in the same room. Gritty, tough, with lives on the edge of falling apart and yet, they just don’t… just. The stories are vignettes of the beautiful intimacy that can be found in quiet and precious moments and the very real sense that sometimes, just being is enough.


NIGHTS ON PROSE MOUNTAIN by bpNichol (Coach House).
ABOUT THE BOOK: Nights on Prose Mountain gathers all of beloved writer bpNichol's published fiction. Originally appearing between 1968 and 1983, and representing almost the entire arc of Nichol's writing career, Nights on Prose Mountain is by turns heartbreaking, playful, and evocative. While Nichol's poetry is widely studied, researched and taught, his novels have remained out of print and are overdue for a new edition. Nichol's curiosity and craft, his exploration and exuberance, his lyricism and adventurousness are all on exhibit here. From the Governor General's Award-winning "The True Eventual Story of Billy the Kid" through more obscure treasures like Extreme Positions, and including Still, For Jesus Lunatick, and Andy, Nights on Prose Mountain traces Nichol's life in fiction.

I have read small excerpts of bpNichol’s writing before and of this book, I have only one thing to say – I need to a buy a copy! I borrowed this copy from the library but I will need much more time than afforded to me by a loan, to read and enjoy this book. Prologue (from Craft Dinner) had me mesmerized and Still was incredibly powerful. Yes, this will need several reads and rereads!
is a collection of short stories selected by Kevin Hardcastle, Grace O’Connell and Ayelet Tsabari (McClelland & Stewart). I loved the stories in this collection. They carry a visceral sadness that will stay with you – but in a good way! I wanted to follow the lives of the characters in these stories, particularly, Reading Week by Sharon Bala, They Come Crying by Sarah Kabamba and A Girl and a Dog on a Friday Night by Kelly Ward.
Like The O. Henry Prize Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and the Best American Short Stories series, The Journey Prize Stories is one of the most celebrated annual literary anthologies in North America. For almost 30 years, the anthology has consistently introduced readers to the next generation of great Canadian authors, a tradition that proudly continues with this latest edition. With settings ranging from wartime China to an island off the coast of British Columbia, the ten stories in this collection represent the year's best short fiction by some of our most exciting emerging voices.     
        A young boy who believes he is being stalked by an unstoppable, malevolent entity discovers that he may not be the only one. In a sweeping story set against the fall of Shanghai during the Second Sino-Japanese War, a pregnant woman waits anxiously for her doctor husband to leave the city before it's too late. A river that runs through a First Nations community is the source of sustenance, escape, and tragedy for a girl and her family. The haunting footage of the politically motivated self-immolation has unexpected reverberations for a Tibetan-Canadian woman dealing with multiple conflicts in her own life. A man who works a back-breaking job at an industrial mat cleaning service is pushed to his limit. When her mother has to return to Kinshasa to bury a family member, a girl gradually learns of the intricacy and depth of grief, in an evocative piece that illuminates the cultural gaps common within immigrant families, and the power of food and stories to bridge them.     

I picked up a copy of YOUNG VOICES published by the Toronto Public Library and was very moved by the selection of writing and the artwork.
Toronto Public Library's magazine of creative writing and visual art, created and selected by Toronto teens, published annually for over fifty years. 
This collection offers courageous and compelling insights into the lives of young people struggling with the complexities of school, love, becoming adults, watching their parents.  Very worth the read. One wants to gather all these ducklings and make the world a safe place for them but, as they are already all-too-aware, it’s too late for that, but one can move forward with brave hearts and a drive to create.
CLOCKWORK CANADA, The Exile Book of Anthology Series, Number Twelve, edited by Dominik Parisien.
Welcome to an alternate Canada, where steam technology and the wonders and horrors of the mechanical age have reshaped the past into something both wholly familiar yet compellingly different. These fifteen supercharged all-new tales reimagine Canadian historical events, explore other Canadas, and gather inspiration from the northern landscape to make us wonder: what if history had gone a different way? 

Experience steam-powered buffalo women roaming the plains; visit brutal gas-lit working class streets; join extraordinary men and women striking out on their own or striving to build communities; marvel as giant rampaging spirits are thwarted by miniscule timepieces, at a great clock that when it chimes the Seven O’Clock Man appears to terrorize a small village in Quebec, or when a Maritime scientist develops a deadly new weapon that could change the course of the American civil war.
While this book was published in 2016, I reread it very recently. The introduction by Parisien reads: “What started as Victorian retro-futurist fantasy has gone global and now spans across multiple historical periods. … Some of the stories contain steam, others don’t; clockwork frequently appears, as do automata, airships, trains, copper, brass, goggles, mechanical limbs; the works of Jules Verne inspire a character or two; the magical and the mechanical sometimes coexist; alternate history is often at the forefront; and great and fantastical inventions abound.” And this is very true! If you’re looking for a different kind of anthology, I recommend Clockwork Canada!

THE MOTHER SUITE by Ruth Zuchter (AngelHousePress)
I’ve long admired the work published by AngelHousePress. I was first introduced to them with Of Being Underground and Moving Backwards by Heather Babcock which was listed on The Minerva Reader when I first started the site. Heather has a book scheduled with Inanna in 2020, Filthy Sugar and I was delighted to read an early copy of the book – readers are in for a treat with Filthy Sugar!
And, most recently from AngelHousePress, and part of today’s features, is The Mother Suite by Ruth Zuchter.
Through letters, diary entries, snippets of remembered conversations and post cards,
Ruth Zuchter collages together a portrait of a complicated mother-daughter relationship in The Mother Suite.
Maternal relationships are seldom straightforward. In Ruth’s words: “Through letters, diary entries, snippets of remembered conversations & post cards, The Mother Suite collages together a portrait of the complexities of a mother-daughter/daughter as mother & caregiver relationship.”
And, what a powerful, compelling read it is. I feel like this collection speaks not only to the relationships between mothers and daughters but also to the complexities of the relationships we have with ourselves, our internal dialogues, observations and self-flaggellations. Being human is such a complex, wonderful, terrible mess and this collection speaks to all of that and does it so very beautifully. This is the kind of work that you could pick up on any given day and find a few sentences that sums it up exactly – you think, yes! That’s exactly how I’m feeling now and then you go about your day, cheered.
THE WAR BENEATH by Timothy S. Johnston (ChiZine)
Living and working underwater can be a dangerous thing. First the bulkheads sweat, then there’s a trickle of water, and then in an instant you’re gone. The only thing left is a bloody pulp in the dark water and crushed bone fragments on the seafloor.
And you can’t bolt to the surface in an emergency . . . The Bends will get you. But that’s not the worst. When you’re living underwater and also working as a spy for your city, that’s when things get really dangerous.

Truman McClusky has been out of the intelligence business for years, working the kelp farms and helping his city Trieste flourish on the shallow continental shelf just off the coast of Florida. Until his former partner shows up, that is, steals a piece of valuable new technology and makes a mad dash into the Atlantic. Before he knows it, Mac ends up back in the game, chasing the spy to not only recapture the tech, but to kill his former friend.
But when he learns the grim truth behind the theft, it sends his stable life into turmoil and plunges him into an even deadlier mission: evade the submarines of hostile foreign powers, escape assassins, and forge through the world’s oceans at breakneck pace on a daring quest to survive, with more lethal secrets than he thought possible in his pocket.
The future of the city depends on McClusky . . . if he can make it back home.
I was immediately drawn in by the cover, with artwork by Erik Mohr (Made by Emblem) and the cover design by Jared Shapiro. Beautiful work!
And I loved the story – such a great concept of cities under the seas and the writing was so cinematic that I felt like I was there, in the seacar. It felt a little hard to breathe at times, which was the writer’s intention and it was very well done! Fast-paced, good old-fashioned Cold War espionage set underwater in 2099, this book offers a great escape! Shortlisted for the 2018 Global Thriller Award and Semi-Finalist for the 2018 CLUE Award.
SKYJACK by K.J. Howe (Headline)
The electrifying sequel to The Freedom Broker, featuring Thea Paris, a kidnap and ransom specialist. For Thea, kidnap is always personal - her brother's life was nearly ruined when he was taken as a child. Lisa Gardner says The Freedom Broker is 'clever and gritty' and Peter James calls it 'spellbinding'. If you like David Baldacci's King and Maxwell series, you will love this.

When Thea Paris's flight is hijacked over the Libyan Desert, her first priority is the two former child soldiers she is escorting to a new life in London.

As an international kidnap specialist, Thea Paris negotiates for hostage release as part of her job. She knows one wrong move could lead to deadly consequences.

After she is forcibly separated from the boys and the other passengers, Thea and her tactical team quickly regroup. And in their desperate search for the hostages that follows, unearth a conspiracy involving the CIA, the Vatican and the Sicilian Mafia, and a plot far more sinister than Thea could ever have imagined.
Wow, K.J. Howe rocks! Talk about action-packed! Reading a Thea Paris book is like watching a Mission Impossible movie only we’ve got a sizzling hot female protagonist who thinks fast and acts even faster! I really enjoyed the characters in this book and I’m loving the Thea Paris series. It’s so great when you get to meet a heroine you really like and you look forward to the next book. I loved the way K.J. Howe writes – reminds me of Michael Connolly and his Bosch series – no padded fat, action all the way. And the plot keeps you on your toes with a lots of authentic details about the mechanics of flying.
(Barking Rain Press)

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…
Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.
Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?
I really enjoyed this fun read! I’m not generally much of a cozy reader but this felt  more like a Kinsey Millhone novel to me (Sue Grafton’s series), than a cozy. I really enjoyed the characters and the sense of small town intrigue, coupled with the secrets from yesteryear. Most families have skeletons in their attics and it was a fun adventure to find out the truth inside the coffin of this one! I look forward to reading more of Judy Penz Sheluk’s work!
CLAUDINE by Barbara Palmer (Penguin Canada)
Maria Lantos is a post grad Yale student researching illicit 18th-century literature. She’s become exceptionally well-versed in the narratives of classic erotic fantasy.

She’s also Claudine, an in-demand escort specializing in sexual role play for an elite clientele. Anonymous. Satisfying. And discreet.

Until the tenuous separation between her worlds starts to crack. It begins with the murder of a stranger. Where it leads is to two men who will test Maria's limits of control and awaken her own sexual desires.

As her private nights bleed into day, Maria will discover the dangerous places that extend beyond the imagination, and secrets no longer consigned to the dark.
Not a book I would ordinarily head for, I came via Claudine when chatting with an author friend about trying to find a home for my rather risqué novel, Boomerang Beach. This bestselling author revealed a secret – she had written a sexy novel herself! So of course, I nabbed copy and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This author’s writing is, without fail, so polished and smooth and Claudine is no exception. The attention to detail is sensual, provocative and painterly. Claudine herself was a work of art and I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes prepping for a night out with high-class clientele. There were moments when I felt as if Claudine was a Harlequin romance on Viagra or steroids, particularly when it came to the romantic side of things, but this didn’t lessen the enjoyment of the read – in fact, to the contrary!
Note to readers, the book contains explicit eroticism.
A SEASON AMONG PSYCHICS By Elizabeth Green (Inanna Publications)
Judith, at fifty, feels that her life is irremediably stalled, and she is depressed. Although she has a secure job teaching English Literature at a university, she is the single mother of a son on the autistic spectrum who has been lurching through the school system, year by year. Buried under the surface of her life, is her longing to write, and her deep feelings for Brian, a man who taught her in a creative writing program, and with whom she has telepathic connection. When Judtih meets Rosetta Kempffer at a psychic fair, she doesn't imagine that anything could change a life that seems so hopelessly stuck. Rosetta suggests Judith take a course from her in psychic healing, and although Judith is skeptical, she signs up, not expecting it to make a bit of difference. Yet, during the course, Judith learns not only techniques and awareness of healing, but also the truth of "things not seen with the bodily vision," and the profound connection between teaching and healing. (
A fascinating, funny and thorough journey into the mystical realms of life in a human body and beyond. Whether you’re a believer in alternative healing or not, this book will refresh your soul and lift your spirits. Try something different and spend A Season Among Psychics!


this is why we're made in the dark by Justin Lauzon (Quattro)
this is why we are made in the dark wrestles with the idea of transformation. The poems alternate between lyrical and narrative; they explore the way changes in the physical world and language mirror each other through an extravagance of subjects: colour, the city, maps, bodily transformation, astronomy, weather, and celestial objects.

If I hadn’t met the author and was asked to describe him, I’d say he’s a kindly European gentleman, Spanish perhaps, thin, in his eighties, a fine-looking man, serene but strong. A great-grandfather and lover of life, a sensual man, loving to his children, stern at times, judicious and mathematical. A man careful with his words, a thinker, an observer, a man who sees the worlds behind the closed curtains of our lives.

This is how I would imagine the author of this is why we’re made in the dark. And if you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Justin, you’d know he is a young man, with his whole life before him.

It's just that the poems are so layered and so intense that it’s a wonder they’ve been written by one so young.
Luciano Iacobelli spotted Justin Lauzon at an open mic reading and urged him to work on his collection and it’s easy to see why. This is a collection I will return to often.

FISHING FOR BIRDS by Linda Quennec (Inanna Publications)
My Review: As beautiful as the mirrored reflection on a still lake, this novel of love, loss and loneliness will pull you in from the very start. A tour de force of elequent prose that is equal parts tranquil and gentle, powerful and compelling. As stories within stories unfold, layers of perfectly imperfect lives are revealed. Fishing For Birds is a sensual exploration of the human need for storytelling as we try make sense of being alive and then, how we continue onwards, when nothing is straightforward. 


My Review: Intriguing, immediately engaging, often disturbing and filled with fascinating facts, The Boy on the Bicycle transports you to a different era of Toronto. Life in the 1950's in "Toronto the Good" wasn't kind to everyone, not by a long shot. The Boy on the Bicycle is written with such vivid attention to detail that this story of injustice and human cruelty will live in your mind long after you’ve read it. And it makes you wonder, how many other innocents suffered the same harsh fate and subsequent fallout that irrevocably damaged their lives? This is true crime at its finest.


About the book: Take a journey through notable cases in Canada’s criminal justice history, featuring well-known and some less-well-known figures from the past. You’ll meet Arthur Ellis, Canada’s most famous hangman, whose work outfit was a frock coat and striped trousers, often with a flower pinned to his lapel. And you will also encounter other memorable characters, including the man who was hanged twice and the gun-toting bootlegger who was the only woman every executed in Alberta. Drop Dead: A Horrible History of Hanging in Canada illustrates how trial, sentencing, and punishment operated in Canada’s first century, and examines the relevance of capital punishment today. Along the way, learn about the mathematics and physics behind hangings, as well as disturbing facts about bungled executions and wrongful convictions.
My Review: A somewhat grisly read, this book is fascinating. It paints a vivid portrait of the time and the charactes involved and is well worth the read. 


About the book: In the first of the Mike O’Shea Crime Fiction Series, 10-33 Assist PC brings us into the dirty world of human trafficking through the eyes of the cops who put their lives on the line every day to shut it down. When his partner dies in his arms, the world as Mike knew it ends and he must decide how to move forward without forgetting the past. Real Detective. Real Crime. Fiction.
My Review: Desmond Ryan promises to bring real crime, fiction, from a real detective. And he delivers on that promise. A gritty and compelling read with personable, relatable characters. I look forward to Mike O'Shea's next adventures. 


The Best Laid Plans is an exciting new anthology and today we have a special guest, Editor, Publisher and Author, Judy Penz Sheluk, author of Past & Present: A Marketville Mystery #2, talking to us about the book but also about the state of publishing in general. Self-publishing versus traditional publishing, what it takes to be a successful author and publisher in today's jam-packed arena of writers and books. Thank you, Judy, for joining The Minerva Reader today!
And, in full disclosure, I am delighted to have a story in The Best Laid Plans - Fire Drill - a story I wrote specifically for the anthology. 

 Whether it’s at a subway station in Norway, a ski resort in Vermont, a McMansion in the suburbs, or a trendy art gallery in Toronto, the twenty-one authors represented in this superb collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of “the best laid plans” in their own inimitable style. And like many best laid plans, they come with no guarantees.   

Tell us a bit about Superior Shores Press – how did it come about and what are your goals? 
Superior Shores Press is a publishing imprint I started in February 2018. In the beginning it was meant to strictly publish my own books – I’d been traditionally published by two different small press publishers, and the reality is small presses just don’t have much money to support their authors. I found that I was doing 99% of the marketing and promo and splitting my royalties. And since I come from a business background, I decided to self-publish my titles as my rights reverted back to me, and to include my newest book.

Of course, there is financial outlay. I hired an editor (I’m an editor but you cannot effectively edit your own work), proofreader, and graphic artist for the cover art, something the small presses did do. But I found that I enjoyed managing every step of the process. I'm a complete control freak and so self-publishing works for me.
At some point in the summer of 2018, I thought it would be “fun” to produce a multi-author anthology like The Whole She-Bang series put out by Sisters in Crime Toronto. I worked out the finances (basically how much I was willing to invest and lose if it didn’t sell) and after a few big swallows and some sleepless nights, I sent out a call for submissions in Oct. 2018 with a deadline of Jan. 2019.
Goals? I’d love to produce at least 3 anthologies. I have an idea for a second theme. But I have to at least break even with the first one re capital outlay (I'm not even considering the hundreds of hours invested in the project).
How did you come about the idea for The Best Laid Plans? 
I love theme-based anthologies, and I wanted to include my short story, PLAN D. That fit the theme, meaning everyone else had to do that too. There are perks to being the publisher!
How did you select the stories for the anthology? You received over 70 submissions and 20 made it - how did you choose?

Cutting down from 72 to 35 wasn’t that difficult. Some didn’t fit the theme or the assigned word count. Some had really graphic violence or an excess of bad language and some had no bite. I wanted the book to be “PG” without being wimpy. But the rest…I loved all 35 stories. Cutting 15 stories, that was tough. I created an Excel spreadsheet, entered in the word counts and basic premise, and went to work. I knew I wanted about 75,000 words and 21 stories in all, which meant 21 stories at 1,500 words or 21 stories at 5,000 words wouldn’t work. Additionally, a good anthology has a mix of quick reads (1,500 words), longer reads (5,000 words), and everything in between. If I could only select four “long stories” and there were six, I had to cut two. There were a couple of stories that I really went back and forth on a few times. The other consideration is topic. I remember reading an anthology a while back that had twelve stories and two had werewolves. That, to my mind, was one too many werewolves, and it ruined the entire collection for me. Finally, theme. There is nothing worse than reading a theme-based collection and coming upon a story that just-doesn’t fit. No matter how good the story, if it didn’t fit the theme, it couldn’t be included. But still, it wasn’t easy to come down to 20.
The cover is great - can you tell us a bit about the design and the illustrator? 
From the beginning I had an idea for a creepy hourglass. I found one I loved online but it was copyrighted and I couldn’t track down the illustrator, even though I tried for days. I finally hired an illustrator, S.A. Hadi hasan, gave him the image I’d found and loved, and he went to work. I love what he came up with. Then I sent that illustration to my cover artist, Hunter Martin, who does all my Superior Shores Press covers and gets “the branding” of my name, etc. right. So many details!
There's been much said about the state of the publishing industry right now - the trend away from traditional publishing. Can you comment on this? 
I think if you are super organized, willing to take financial risks, understand that publishing is a business, are willing to do tons of promo, and spend multiple hours creating accounts with all the major retailers, formatting files and uploading them in different formats specific to each format, etc. etc. etc., then self-publishing could be a fit for you. But it drives me nuts when people think they don’t need to hire professionals for editing, proofreading, and cover art. You absolutely must. If, on the other hand, all that sounds daunting (or too expensive), and you’d rather just write and let someone else take care of it, then traditional is the way to go.
One size doesn’t fit all. And it always makes me laugh when someone says, “I don’t want to split my royalties.” If you aren’t willing to put in the work or financial investment a traditional publisher does and hire the experts you need to, then chances are your book won’t sell because it simply won’t measure up. 100% of nothing is still nothing.
You enjoy great success online with Amazon and Kindle and you're a great networker, both in person and online. How do you find the time to do everything you do and write? 

I’m also with B&N, Apple Books, Kobo and Google Play. On the days that I’m “Marketing Judy” I’m not “Author Judy.” I come from a freelance writer/editor background (2003-2018) and before that, years in financial managerial positions, so I’m good with deadlines and goal setting. I love being “Author Judy.” The dream is to get to the point where I can hire a “Marketing Judy” even if only part-time. But right now, I’m a multi-tasker. When I start writing a book, I try to write a chapter a day and I’ll work for however long that takes. Sometimes it’s an hour. Sometimes it’s 10 hours. It takes as long as it takes. This is a job like any other. It’s not glamorous. But, to me, it never feels like work.
Any tips for aspiring authors out there? It seems like such a vast ocean of work is being published so how can authors carve out a space for themselves? 
I always answer this question with a quote from Agatha Christie: “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you're writing, and aren't writing particularly well.”
And, most importantly, where can readers find a copy of The Best Laid Plans? 
The Best Laid Plans will be available on Kindle and in trade paperback at all the usual suspects, including Amazon, B&N and Chapters.Indigo. You can pre-order your copy at the link below. 


PROOF I WAS HERE by Becky Blake, Wolsak and Wynn 

What’s the point of trying to leave a mark when everything disappears? This question is at the heart of Proof I Was Here, a novel that tells the picaresque coming-of-age story of a young thief and aspiring artist who attempts to reboot her life on the streets of Barcelona after an unexpected breakup. Hailing from Toronto, where she has an assault charge waiting, Niki is outside of Canada for the first time. The pickpockets, squatters and graffiti artists she meets challenge her to reassess her ideas about luck and art. With the help of a passionate Catalan separatist who dreams of building a new country from the ground up, Niki realizes that starting her life over from scratch could be an opportunity – if she can just find a way to clear her name.

I immediately gravitated towards this book because of the title! Then, admittedly, it had all my favourite elements; Barcelona, young thieves, hustlers, buskers and graffiti artists. Broken hearts, complicated friendships, freeganism (fascinating idea), and dysfunctional familial relationships. This book was my perfect kind of escape read. Nikki aka Jane, kleptomaniac when stressed kept me following her adventures, holding my breath and wishing her all the best.


ALBATROSS by Terry Fallis, Penguin Random House Canada

Adam Coryell is your average high-school student--well, except for that obsession with fountain pens--when his life changes forever. Based on a study by a quirky Swedish professor that claims that every human being, regardless of athletic inclination, has a body that is suited to excel in at least one sport, it turns out that Adam is good--very good, in fact--at golf. Even though he'd never even picked up a golf club.

Almost instantly, and with his coach, hard-nosed Bobbie Davenport by his side, Adam and his new-found talent skyrocket to a prodigy-level stardom that includes tournament titles, sponsorship deals, throngs of fans following his every move, and fodder for tabloids.

But here's the catch: Adam doesn't really like golf. And as the life he once knew slips away--including the love of his life, the dream of being a writer, and everyday normalcy--he can't help but wonder if all this success and fame is worth it . . . or if it's enough for him. 

Heartwarming and funny, sweeping and entertaining, Terry Fallis's new book takes readers on a journey of self-discovery.

Yes, Terry Fallis’ books are funny. But they’re more than a simply comedic read, they really do, as the acknowledgment says, talk about life. What happens when you’re happy to make do with the lemons life has given you and you’re content to set about making lemonade but then out of nowhere, you win the DNA lottery and you’re pretty much force-fed champagne lemon gelato? Ad if you’re not sure what I’m getting at, you’ll have to read the book! The albatross of good fortune is an interesting concept, as is that of God given talents vs that which one works so hard to achieve. As always, the road is hilly, life is messy and the results are bittersweet. A reaffirming read, I enjoyed Albatross  and there are interesting insights into writing, publishing and fountains pens!


LIVING ON A BLANK PAGE by Gili Haimovich, Bue Angel Press

New Edition for Gili’s poetry collection Living on a Blank Page (Blue Angel Press 2008).
The new edition is the first one to include Gili’s photography as well as two new additional poems. Single Sock, one of the poems in the book, also featured in LRC- The Literary Review of Canada. The poem Date from the book was recently published in Writing in the Margins ezine.

I met Gili Haimovich years ago when this volume of poetry came out and we recently reconnected on Facebook. I always remembered the beauty and power of her launch reading and the powerful poignancy of her words. I’m very happy to see Gili’s continued success as a poet and it’s a lovely treat to revisit her words.
Here's an excerpt from Living on a Blank Page:
one last poem
like one last chance
to be
vague and beautiful

FROM THE ASHES: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way by Jesse Thistle, Simon Schuster

MY REVIEW: This is one of the best books I've read this year. I was fortunate to get an Advance Reader Copy because in my day job, (I'm a magazine designer), sadly more books come in than can be reviewed. But I'd buy this book and I highly recommend it. 

From the moment I started it, I couldn't put it down. I read it every moment I could, on the subway and at lunchtime. That's the mark of a good book.

It's unflinching self-reportage of the darkest moments imaginable to a person. And to a child. 

It was, at times, hard to read but the writing is exquisite and Thistle never shies away from absolute self-honesty.

I felt as if I were with Jesse Thistle every step of the way, such was the vivid strength of the writing. There wasn't a moment when I didn't want to reach out to him and help him but he ultimately rescues himself, which is the most important lesson of all. Yes, he had help and support and love but one got the definite sense that Jesse never wanted the life of an addict – he fought it and his demons as fiercely as they battled to keep him in the prison of addiction. 

If there is any redemption to the human condition it is that we can, indeed, rise from the ashes. Thank you, Jesse Thistle for this book. You're a wonderful writer and I look forward to reading more of your work because my feeling is that there are more stories to come. And kudos too, to your courage and determination.


THE SCENT OF MOGRA by Aparna Kaji Shah, Inanna Publications.
ABOUT THE BOOK: The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories is a collection of four short stories about strong female characters dealing with difficult life-changing situations. The turmoil that they face is, often, the result of a social structure that discriminates against women. Through these powerful women characters, the stories reflect attitudes and ways of life in a village in India, and in modern day Mumbai; they highlight the values of an older generation, and the dreams of a new one. Beneath all their differences, The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories illuminate the quality of women's lives, exposing the pain, the injustices, as well as the triumphs that make up their existence. 

MY REVIEW: What a beautiful read, one that appeals to all senses. You truly get the sense of being inside each protagonist and vividly experiencing their lives. This collection has one of the saddest, most beautiful stories I’ve read in a very long time – I won’t say which one because I urge you to read the collection!  Each story gripped and I couldn’t put the book down while in the middle of a story. Once I finished one, I took a break to savour what I had just read, to mull over the character’s situation and the stories resolution. They’re the kind of stories one needs to ponder, almost have an internal dialogue with the character to ask them for more, to continue being a part of their lives. I love how each voice had such a strong sense of indivuality.


As you know, The Minerva Reader is all about the unsung hero, a treasure you might have missed. I recently read Someone We Know by Shari Lapena, picking up the ARC from the book table at work. I love a good escapist read! Shari Lapena crafts finely-tuned, tightly written works and I really enjoyed this one. But Shari Lapena is not an unsung hero so while I wanted to mention the book here, I also wanted to say that if you enjoy books like like Lapena’s, then I highly recommend the Pat Tierney trilogy by Rosemary McCracken (and I am hoping there will be more in the series.) Jack Batten, the Toronto Star‘s crime fiction reviewer, calls Pat Tierney “a hugely attractive sleuth figure.”


IN THE KEY OF THIRTEEN, The Mesdames of Mayhem's New Upcoming Anthology
And, for the final highlight in this issue of The Minerva Reader, here’s the fabulous cover for In The Key of Thirteen, a new anthology coming out in Fall, by the Mesdames of Mayhem (of which I am one!) There are 19 stories in the collection, all on the theme of music. 

Many thanks to the very talented Sara Carrick for our dramatic and elegant cover, which captures our theme of music and murder.

Our official launch of the In the Key of 13 anthology takes place in Toronto on Saturday, October 26, 2 to 4 pm at Sleuth of Baker Street, 907 Millwood Rd. Watch for more details as we near publication. 


UNDERCARD by David Albertyn, Spiderline / House of Anansi Press Inc.

MY REVIEW: A visceral no-holds-barred novel that’s as tight and strong as the bodies that populate it. The book grabs you from the get-go, it’s a compelling, character-driven tough-guy revenge story about life’s disappointments and the self-acceptance of being a bench starter. There are lots of sporting analogies for the failed relationships and scars of the wars of adult life, both figuratively and literally. It’s a gritty and powerful read and the characters will leave you hoping there’s a sequel in the works. This is a true Vegas tale of winner takes all - but do they really?


IRVING LAYTON: OUR YEARS TOGETHER, Harriet Bernstein, Inanna Publications.

MY REVIEW: Gianna Patriarca, author of Italian Women and Other Tragedies and All My Fallen Angelas, was right, “ This is a love affair that refuses to end long after the flames are spent. Even if Irving Layton were not the fascinating literary character that he is and, by virtue of that fact alone, intriguing, this novel would hold you in its thrall. It’s a tour de force of passionate sensual love and a riveting read that demonstrates all the complexities of a perfectly imperfect, doomed love. A love affair so wonderful at times that as a reader you ask yourself how it could all have gone wrong. But not all great loves are intended to last forever, they burn so brightly that their light reflects long after they are gone, a spent star still sending shimmering and mesmerizing light.

SIDEWAYS ROOTS by Gili Haimovich, Kimchi Press.

Gili Haimovich’s poetry captures an astonishing integration of place and emotion, with the same poem speaking to a breadth of moments and feelings. Which is why one can reread her poems so often over the years. It’s extraordinay, her way of capturing and startling the reader with observations and insights into a day, summing up the poignancy and the sufferings we endure – a wondrous ablity to surprise and delight with these perfect observations of something you thought or would have thought if you had been able to formualte that thought but for you, it was more a vague feeling but then you read the poem and there it is, only it comes with a conclusion that leaves you slightly sucker-punched but in the best possible way, as if showing you a sharp-edged truth that you were not entirely surprised to find was there. 

CRIME CLUB by Melodie Campbell (Orca Book Publishers)
About the book: Sixteen-year-old Penny has moved with her mom and huge dog, Ollie, to live above a small-town pub owned by her aunt. It's a relief to start over in a place where no one knows her father is in prison.

It's summer, and the only person she knows is her nerdy cousin Simon. Soon she meets Simon's best friend, Brent, and Brent's twin sister, Tara, and their pug, Wolfgang.

When Ollie digs up a human bone in the backyard of the pub, police are called. It turns out the bone is over twenty years old. Who can the dead person be? Surely Aunt Stella can't be involved. 

Penny and Simon decide to investigate. Together with Brent and Tara, they form The Crime Club. And before long they discover one thing: if you've killed before, you can kill again.
My review: A heartwarming YA novel written by talented author Melodie Campbell. I always love reading Melodie’s work, her words are polished and smooth and she has great empathy for her characters. Perhaps Penny Capelli will get up to more adventures!


IMMIGRANT CITY by David Bezmozgis (HarperCollins)
About the book: In the title story, a father and his young daughter stumble into a bizarre version of his immigrant childhood. A mysterious tech conference brings a writer to Montreal, where he discovers new designs on the past in “How It Used to Be.” A grandfather’s Yiddish letters expose a love affair and a wartime secret in “Little Rooster.” In “Childhood,” Mark’s concern about his son’s phobias evokes a shameful incident from his own adolescence. In “Roman’s Song,” Roman’s desire to help a new immigrant brings him into contact with a sordid underworld. At his father’s request, Victor returns to Riga, the city of his birth, where his loyalties are tested by the man he might have been in “A New Gravestone for an Old Grave.” And, in the noir-inspired “The Russian Riviera,” Kostya leaves Russia to pursue a boxing career only to find himself working as a doorman in a garish nightclub in the Toronto suburbs.

In these deeply felt, slyly humorous stories, Bezmozgis pleads no special causes but presents immigrant characters with all their contradictions and complexities, their earnest and divided hearts.
My review: As an immigrant to Canada, and the child of a Hungarian immigrant father in South Africa, these stories resonated deeply. My favourite line comes from the title story, Immigrant City. The father asks his daughter if she’d like to go home or keep going (on the train). She replies “Go home and keep going.” This collection is a wonderful cross section of lives.


ONE DAY IT HAPPENS by Mary Lou Dickinson (Inanna Publications)
About the book: One Day It Happens is an eclectic collection of short stories by Mary Lou Dickinson, which deal in myriad forms with communication or lack thereof in the lives of the characters. One of the universal factors in human existence is the need to connect with one another. When these characters fail to do so, it is the result of fear, of loneliness, of violence, of impending death. Sometimes they succeed in spite of everything to reach a place of insight and understanding, usually in unexpected ways and to their own surprise. About some of the stories: Margaret, in "The Empty Chair," almost 90 and lonely after the death of her husband, has a bizarre sexual encounter with a man living in the same retirement home. In "A Country Weekend," a visit to the family cottage prompts a terrifying and almost fatal swim across the lake. A writer in "Hello, Angel," imagines and fears the sexual assault and abduction of a young girl by his next door neighbour. "From the Front" explores the typical day of a telephone crisis counsellor. Eva, in "White Sails on Lake Ontario," at last takes steps to leave an abusive relationship. In "The Train Ride," Joe, who rides the train in order to have conversations with people, fails to connect with a fellow passenger. Libby, in "One Day It Happens," visits a friend whose husband is recovering from a heart attack, making all of them feel vulnerable and close to death in a number of ways.
My review: I know this isn't a new release but I've wanted to read this bok for a while and it was such a treat. Each short story has the richness of a novel. I love Mary Lou’s insights into the human condition, be it with regard to love, loss, aging, loneliness, sex and happiness.


DIG by Terry Doyle (Breakwater)
About the book: In twelve dialed-in and exceptionally honed short stories, Terry Doyle presents an enduring assortment of characters channelled through the chain reactions of misfortune and redemption. A construction worker's future is bound to a feckless and suspicious workmate. A young woman's burgeoning social activism is constrained by hardship and the desperation of selling puppies online. A wedding guest recognizes a panhandler attending the reception. And a man crafts a concealed weapon with which to carry out his nightly circuit of paltry retribution. Through keen-eyed observation, and with an impressive economy of statement, Doyle conveys these characters over a backdrop of private absurdities and confusions--countering the overbearance of a post-tragic age with grit, irony, and infinitesimal signs of hope. 

My review: A very real and empathetic sense of the struggle of ongoing daily lives, not so much pivotal turning points but vignettes of the day-to-day, the celebrations, losses and loans, arguments, injuries, siblings and families – every strand that makes up the fabric of lives going quietly, deeply wrong. Doyle writes with enviable clean prose that cuts close to the bone.

CHASING THE BANYAN WIND by Bernadette Gabay Dyer (LMH Publishing Limited)
About the book: In the mid 1920s an English family, Jonathan and Wilemina Gunn, and their two young children, Dunstan and Eliza emigrate to the Caribbean island of Jamaica. With help from locals they build a home in a remote rural location on the island's north coast. Previous perceptions of the island do not prepare them for the reality of the island's diverse English speaking population that includes Negroes, East Indians, Chinese, Jews, Europeans and Syrians.
My review: Epic and sweeping, sensual and insightful, I fell into this read. Another country, another time, another world. I felt the wind on my skin, could taste the cuisine, feel the rain, see the flowers and countryside. Chasing The Banyan Wind will transport you like a time machine. A very good read to escape into.


THE TICKING HEART by Andrew Kaufman (Coach House Books)
About the book: In Metaphoria, everything means something, and thoughts and fears turn into objects. Charlie Waterfield finds himself there working as a detective because he can't get over the death of his wife and child. When Shirley Wythchildde hires him to find her husband's missing heart, she replaces Charlie's heart with a ticking bomb and gives him forty-eight hours to solve the case.

So begins The Ticking Heart, a novel in three connected parts. In the second, we meet Warren Templeman, a blocked writer in a psychiatric ward who claims to be a scout from an alien race, which his doctor believes is a ruse to keep from grieving his wife and daughter. The final part begins on the ninth birthday of Warren's daughter, when he runs over a dog in a Toys R Us parking lot. As he drives around town trying to find help find for the dog, he's finally forced to defuse the bomb in his own heart.
My review: What a magical book! This book should be prescribed reading for every jaded adult. Magical realism and metaphors mingle to create a marvellous mix that will make you quite giddy in the best possible way. Read this book for the chapter titles alone – but then, read the whole book for the sheer delight of it.


SIDE BY SIDE by Anita Kushwaha (Inanna Publications)
About the book: Kavita Gupta is a woman in transition. When her troubled older brother, Sunil, disappears, she does everything in her power to find him, convinced that she can save him. Ten days later, the police arrive at her door to inform her that Sunil's body has been found. Her world is devastated. She finds herself in crisis mode, trying to keep the pieces of her life from falling apart even more. As she tries to cope with her loss, the support system around her begins to unravel. Her parents' uneasy marriage seems more precarious. Her health is failing as her unprocessed trauma develops into more sinister conditions. Her marriage suffers as her husband is unable to relate to her loss. She bears her burden alone, but after hitting her lowest point, she knows she needs to find a better way of coping. Desperate for connection, she reaches out to a bereavement group, where she meets Hawthorn, a free-spirited young man with whom she discovers a deep connection through pain. After being blindsided by a devastating marital betrayal, she wonders if a fresh start is possible in the wake of tragedy. Will she escape her problems and start over? Or will she face the challenges of rebuilding the life she already has? Side by Side is a story about loss, growth and the search for meaning in the wake of tragedy, illuminated through one woman's journey from harm to care.
My review: I admit I was a little wary of reading this book because suicide is something we are all too familiar with – many of us have lost people in our lives, have had friends or family who have committed suicide and it’s true that the grief never goes away. The grief changes, and this book is a thoughtful and beautiful examination of that journey. The book is a homage to those who died too soon and to those who live in the shadow of that loss. 


I BECOME A DELIGHT TO MY ENEMIES by Sara Peters (Strange Light)
About the book: An experimental fiction, I Become a Delight to My Enemies uses many different voices and forms to tell the stories of the women who live in an uncanny Town, uncovering their experiences of shame, fear, cruelty, and transcendence. Sara Peters combines poetry and short prose vignettes to create a singular, unflinching portrait of a Town in which the lives of girls and women are shaped by the brutality meted upon them and by their acts of defiance and yearning towards places of safety and belonging. Through lucid detail, sparkling imagery and illumination, Peters' individual characters and the collective of The Town leap vividly, fully formed off the page. A hybrid in form, I Become a Delight to My Enemies is an awe-inspiring example of the exquisite force of words to shock and to move, from a writer of exceptional talent and potential.
My review: Compelling, astounding, incredible and utterly brilliant.
This work necessitates at least three reads the first time and more thereafter
Incredible perceptions of body and space. This book blew me away. I can’t wait to read it again.


About the book: In Motel of the Opposable Thumbs, Stuart Ross continues to ignore trends in Canadian poetry, and further follow the journey he began over four decades ago with his discoveries of the works of Stephen Crane, E. E. Cummings, Nelson Ball, Ron Padgett, Victor Coleman, Tom Clark, Nicanor Parra, Joe Rosenblatt, and David McFadden. In this eclectic, pleasurable gathering of poems and sequences, Mr. Ross unapologetically leaps from howls of grief and despair to zany incursions into surrealism and the absurd. He embraces this panoply of approaches to respond to our cantankerous existential dilemma. All that, and it’s structured after Bela Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4! Get a room and enjoy.
My review: I just love Stuart Ross’s brain! Here are some excerpts from the collection and all I can say is, treat yourself to this book!
Ovation :
the egg stood up
for itself
(from Grey Notes)
… When
we become old, after so much
wine and so much shouting
insects, we gaze into the stars,
newsprint straining our eyes,
scurrying between A and B,
until the streetscape shares
with us its freshly
unwrapped secrets
(from Pencil Shavings)
… The best way
to avoid a root canal is to replace
your head with a sparrow.
(from Important Information For Your Dental Health)
Do you know how many small dogs you can fit into a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? Do you know where I buried my lunch?
(from Efforts)


GIRLS NEED NOT APPLY by Kelly S. Thompson (McClelland & Stuart / Penguin Random House Canada)
About the book: At eighteen years old, Kelly Thompson enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces. Despite growing up in a military family -- she would, in fact, be a fourth-generation soldier -- she couldn't shake the feeling that she didn't belong. From the moment she arrives for basic training at a Quebec military base, a young woman more interested in writing than weaponry, she quickly realizes that her conception of what being a soldier means, forged from a desire to serve her country after the 9/11 attacks, isn't entirely accurate. A career as a female officer will involve navigating a masculinized culture and coming to grips with her burgeoning feminism.
In this compulsively readable memoir, Thompson writes with wit and honesty about her own development as a woman and a soldier, unsparingly highlighting truths about her time in the military. In sharply crafted prose, she chronicles the frequent sexism and misogyny she encounters both in training and later in the workplace, and explores her own feelings of pride and loyalty to the Forces, and a family legacy of PTSD, all while searching for an artistic identity in a career that demands conformity. When she sustains a career-altering injury, Thompson fearlessly re-examines her identity as a soldier. Girls Need Not Apply is a refreshingly honest story of conviction, determination, and empowerment, and a bit of a love story, too.
My review: What a compelling read! The sheer determination in the book keeps you captivated and the prose is so convincing that you feel every blister and broken bone. But more than the physical hardships, it’s the insidious, vicious workplace bullying that is appalling. Hopefully this book will shine a spotlight on areas that still need so much work (and not just in the army). Thompson’s love/hate relationship with her first career is wonderfully portrayed, as is the loss of that job which left her bereft. This book speaks to a specific situation (of Thompson’s army career) but more than that, it speaks to life and the challenges one faces, trying to not only survive but also thrive, in a cutthroat world.


About the book: With birth, death, contemplation, and close calls, Send More Tourists... the Last Ones Were Delicious explores how we respond to the weight of social expectations. From the hidden pressures of wall paint and tarot card predictions, to the burden of phone numbers and the dismembering of saints, Waddleton takes us on a surrealist road trip through the missteps of her vivid characters with honesty and compassion. These are stories of survival. Unafraid, dreamy, and downright weird, these stories cross boundaries of geography, gender, and generation with an eye to the transient nature of human life
My review: I love the sharp originality of this collection! I’m going to dub it kickboxer grit lit - and make no mistake, this is lit – very fine lit – lit that will scour your sensibilities and tickle your funny bone at the same time. There’s joy as the upper cut of the stories catches you off guard and you fall to the mat laughing so hard that you wouldn’t have it any other way. The sheer energy is marvelous  and there’s so much poignancy too. Yep, I love these stories!


CROW by Amy Spurway, Goose Lane Editions
ABOUT THE BOOK: When Stacey Fortune is diagnosed with three highly unpredictable — and inoperable — brain tumours, she abandons the crumbling glamour of her life in Toronto for her mother Effie's scruffy trailer in rural Cape Breton. Back home, she's known as Crow, and everybody suspects that her family is cursed.

With her future all but sealed, Crow decides to go down in a blaze of unforgettable glory by writing a memoir that will raise eyebrows and drop jaws. She'll dig up "the dirt" on her family tree, including the supposed curse, and uncover the truth about her mysterious father, who disappeared a month before she was born.

But first, Crow must contend with an eclectic assortment of characters, including her gossipy Aunt Peggy, hedonistic party-pal Char, homebound best friend Allie, and high-school flame Willy. She'll also have to figure out how to live with her mother and how to muddle through the unsettling visual disturbances that are becoming more and more vivid each day.

Witty, energetic, and crackling with sharp Cape Breton humour, Crow is a story of big twists, big personalities, big drama, and even bigger heart. 
MY REVIEW: What a delightful blend of Cape Breton magic and marvellous, salt-tang, tack-sharp writing! The characters and the story make this such a joyful, powerful, tragic, uplifting worthy read. Here’s to trees, books, family, friends, eccentricities and all such things that make life worthwhile – and I loved the way the book exposed the hypocrisy behind modern-day faux-mystical infused materialism which is really no more than a mask for rampant consumerism.


WHERE I RISE, SHE FALLS by Dean Serravalle, Inanna Publications
Where I Fall, Where She Rises is a novel that follows two women on opposite ends of a terrorist kidnapping. While one woman suffers and falls at the hands of her captors, the other exploits the fame of such a publicized event to secure a future for her unborn child.

Lea Ironstone is a Canadian freelance journalist who recalls her time spent in the very dangerous red zone of Baghdad, after the 2003 U.S. invasion. A self-destructive addict, she refuses to relegate herself to the safer green zone, where most mainstream news journalists like Paul Shell are protected. Desperately seeking a more controversial story to re-establish his fame as a television journalist for GNN, Paul Shell contacts Lea and agrees to meet her in the red zone for a recent finding.

They are kidnapped by an insurgent terrorist sect and tortured repeatedly. Carol Shell, Paul Shell's wife lives in New York. Eight months pregnant, Carol is approached by Timothy Abel, her husband's agent. Timothy wishes to represent her "victimhood," which he sees as a very marketable and exploitable asset. Her appetite for fame and celebrity eclipses her familial priorities and she is coerced into a lifestyle that hinges on personal promotion. Lea and Paul find themselves incarcerated in a basement dungeon expecting their next, "artistic" torture, while Carol makes her next public appearance to further her star. Lea and Paul's relationship evolves into a mutual understanding of their united fate, while Carol, on the other side of the world, rises in public stature. The novel evolves into an emotional satire, which depicts two strong women who attack the consequences of war on two different fronts. 
MY REVIEW: At first, I didn’t understand the title but then it was perfect. An enthralling story about two women on opposite ends of the social spectrum, yet bound by a single incident. What a brilliant (and yes, at times brutal but necessarily so) depiction of our troubled, complicated and conflicted world.
Also fascinating is the depiction of the lies we’ll tell ourselves and others, simply to achieve fame – and the depths to which we will sink – and the speed with which we will sink – in order to stay on the top rung of the Karshadian ladder of influencer fame and fortune. Selling our souls for celebrity status is the new evil: the desire to be the trending Google search is the apple in our Garden of Eden. Which, if you consider, is truly ironic, since Apple and Steve Jobs were indeed the poisoned fruit of our times. And yes, while so many levels of learning and communication have been opened up by their presence, the price for those gains has been steep.
There is the price of fanatics  pretending to eschew the allure of the new fame  and insist that they are the antithesis of it, but they eagerly buy into it by kidnapping and torturing fellow humans on live feed all while insisting they are ‘torture artists’ not terrorists and that their cause is pure. No longer is Andy Warhol’s ridiculously short-lived fifteen minutes of fame the prize, we are brainwashed into craving the enduring glory of the internet, even if it is all a lie, smoke and mirrors.
The book is unflinching in its examination of the tortures endured by ancient saints, and indeed, by the marriage of Heaven and Hell (and the Blake poem in this regard).  This book is also fascinating in the examining the relationship between pain and saintliness, pain and Godliness.
“Where there has been no story, you have told one. Where there has been nothing, you have created life. Death is the destruction of the story. Life is the creation of one. Conscience is the remembering. Guilt is the regret of destruction. Redemption is the rewriting. Suffering inspires it. Suffering is the quill.”
“If we managed to tell our story, it might destroy the marriage. I had always believed in the contraries. Hell needed a Heaven to corrupt, and Heaven needed an enemy to destroy. Could one story do anything but state what everybody already knew? The two needed each other to exist. Without the marriage, there would be no stories worth remembering. There would be nothing to create.”
“I have always loved the scent of roses. I don’t know why. It’s like it comes from the thorns instead of the flower.”


WORRY by Jessica Westhead, Harper Perennial
ABOUT THE BOOK: Jessica Westhead's WORRY, pitched as a novel for readers of LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE and TRULY MADLY GUILTY, about an anxious, overprotective mother who brings her four-year-old daughter to the remote family cottage of the woman who has been her best friend - and her husband's best friend - for years, and where over forty-eight tension-filled hours, old and new resentments surface alongside a mother's constant worry for her child and the appearance of a mysterious neighbor.

MY REVIEW: Worry gave me goosebumps from the very first line! The first few pages are so utterly heartbreaking that you nearly shy away but the instant connection between reader and protagonist is established and you devour the entire book. And yes, you do worry, the entire way.
The novel takes you on a gripping journey that keeps you guessing, enticing you to want to know more while unfolding with perfect timing and suspenseful emotionality. And there’s a great ending, with suprising plot twists.
Worry is much more than a cottage country domestic thriller or a tale of childhood besties gone wrong,  Worry looks at the pain we can leave behind versus that which we can’t or, that still needs work and then, what lies on the other side of endurance and healing?


Hope You'll Check Out The 45 Two-Sentence Sizzling Summer Book Blitz!

I’ve got an exciting stash of amazing Canadian Reads lined up for The Minerva Reader! So many that it will take me a while to read them all. And, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I've got half a dozen books on the go and I pick up whichever one appeals to my mood at the time.
ECW posed the question (on Twitter) as to how readers file or organize their books and my answer was ‘to add to random piles until they fall over and then I start again!’ Book storage, Jenga-style!
Terri Favro (@fluffybaggins) said this: “Books signed by author, together. Graphic novels, together. Poetry, together. All others, wherever there's space. When there's no space, something goes to the nearest #LittleFreeLibrary” which was very impressive!
Which made me revisit my stacks, with the intent to do some sorting and organizing and then I decided to create a Two-Sentence Teaser, with two random sentences from each book.
So here, in no particular order at all – and I know, I should have alphabetized them or bundled them into genres or something – are 45 books on my CanLit To-Read Pile! And, some may be a bit longer than two sentences or a bit shorter! And, there's no information about the author or the book, just the sentences and who published the book. (And there is poetry too!)
• Every Little Piece of Me by Amy Jones, McClelland & Stuart. “You are beautiful is so last month,” she said to Val, who was wrestling with a bubble-wrapped envelope full of what turned out to be two-dimensional paper flowers, cut from construction paper and painted with more glitter. “This should say Survivor. At least it would be shorter.”
• Bina by Anakana Schofield, Alfred A. Knopf, Canada. “Eddie’s the kind of son you are landed with because no beggar wants to be bothered with him, and because he’s used up all his goodwill and will soon expire on yours.”
• Spirit River Dam by Susan Daly, in The Best Laid Plans (Superior Shores Press). “In her mind’s eye, she saw the fateful figures reasserting themselves one by one, burning through the paper seal on the back of the painting. Like something in a Twilight Zone episode.”
• The Red Word by Sarah Henstra, ECW Press. “No one in their right mind gives up power peaceably, Dyann would say. No one is ever going to hand over our freedom to us, just like that.”
• The Whiskey King by Trevor Cole, HarperCollins. “The foursome spent the night in Detroit, Zaneth somewhere on his own, presumably receiving his drugs, and the Poles trio out drinking, or so they said. He didn’t see them until noon the next day, but once they were together the trio wanted Zaneth to stay with them.”
•  Up From Freedom by Wayne Grady, Doubleday Canada. “Nothing is forgiven,” his father used to say. “Some things are forgotten but damn few. And nothing is ever forgiven.”
•  Songs for the Cold of Heart, by Eric Dupont, translated from the French by Peter McCambridge, QC Fiction. “He was shorter than me. I’m a little on the tall side, even for a German from the north, but he was fat too, wearing a black suit with a bowtie. Nothing says “I’m a total cretin” like a bowtie, Kapriel.”
• An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim, Penguin Random House Canada. “He is at the end of time. There is nothing but ashy beach and giant, slithering crabs with palpitating mouths and pale, jerking antennae. He remembers the sounds of his world, birdsong and teatime, and he thinks, All that is over.”
• No TV for Woodpeckers by Gary Barwin, a Buckrider Book.
at this difficult time
in our lives, ladies and gentlemen
let us consider sandwiches:
if the only thing in the universe
• Subtitles by Domenico Capilongo, Guernica Editions. “The music grows outward from ancient street corners. In wafts of cigar smoke, off the hoods of vintage cars, echoing between the rows of tourists who tap their feet, off rhythm.”
• Tender in the Age of Fury by Brandon Pitts, Mosaic Press.
we knew then
that the boy
who spoke with departed shades
was a prophet of things to come
so we called him
Sweet Medicine
• Four-letter Words by Chad Pelley, Breakwater Books. “It had been a while, sure, a month or two, but this wasn’t about catching up, so he stood there, wordless, waiting to be invited in. She tightened her bathrobe and swooped her arm like, come in. A waft of lavender, some kind of bath product that smelled purple.”
• In the Bear’s House by Bruce Hunter, Oolichan Books. “She was fragile now. He felt the tremor in her voice and the uncertainty in her eyes. “Not a word,” he said. Then she let him go.”
• Twelve Moons and Six More Poems by Ellen S. Jaffe, Pinking Shears Publications.
I clean out your kitchen
one last time,
bake the sweet, apple-rich cake.
You never felt hungry, you
told me before you died.
Now I hunger, I hunger,
and I eat.
• Send by Domenico Capilongo, Guernica Editions.
I’m like in love with you
like she walked in the room
and I’m like wow look at her
like if you think I’m pretty
like if I shouldn’t kill myself
like I got so many likes
it was like crazy
• The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley, Simon & Schuster. “She created a Twitter account. She named herself Zoey W., left her photo the little white egg. It made her sad, the lonely little egg, but this was not about Zoey—or if it was, it was about creating the world she would have wanted Zoey to live in.”
• Dream Sequence by Adam Foulds, Biblioasis. “As soon as he saw the desert, Henry knew he was in the right place. It was like no landscape Henry had ever seen before. It was absolute.”
• Blue Pyramids by Robert Priest, ECW.
Daniel slips away
but he’s still standing there
riding the blue wave
into a painting
into a story
or just a fantasy-thought
one more little cape
for identity to twirl in his
wild shaman’s shuffle
• The Street of Butterflies by Mehri Yalfani, Inanna Publications. “On our honeymoon I realized I couldn’t live with him. He wasn’t my type. I couldn’t make myself love him.”
• Permission by Saskia Vogel, Coach House Books. “Standing in that same window, it wasn’t the ocean I saw but the seams: silicone, grout, hinges and brackets. All that was holding the house together and all the ways in which it could fall apart.”
• Black Beach by Glynis Guevara, Inanna Publications. “As she stepped away from the water and headed toward the unkempt trail back to town, she wondered what condition her mother would be in when she got home. She thought of her mother’s mother and her father’s sister, both of whom had suffered from debilitating mental health issues before their deaths. Will I end up like them? 
• Motel of the Opposable Thumbs by Stuart Ross, Anvil Press.
My shadow contains three words:
Sh. Ad. Ow. I contain mulitudes
of headlice I’m hoping to comb out
before you arrive with your eyes in your face,
• There is a Place by Ivy Reiss, Ivy Reiss.
Nothing can compare to
The blunt breaking in
Of un-thought
Forgotten things
• Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page, Biblioasis. “Running through the leafy lane, his shirt damp with sweat, his body warming to the work and liking it, his eyes growing sharper and taking in the almost-bursting buds and the spiderwebs bejewelled with glistening droplets, Harry forgets the argument completely.”
• Perspectives on a Crime Scene by Alex Stolis, Grey Borders Books. “Together they looked like some noir tableau, a Hopper painting. When he got the drop on her she looked straight-edged, full of sin; ready to burn him to the ground.”
•  Branches by Mark Truscott, Book*hug.
The feeling
we could be
Doing something
else is always
there, the
edge that
bespeaks the
thing is
here now
• One Day it Happens by Mary Lou Dickinson, Inanna Publications. “But then, after your understood it all, and God knows, she thought she understood it—the sudden crushing desire to take the oar and be that woman she hadn’t been—then what did she understand?”
• Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha, Inanna Publications. “Suddenly she can’t stand to look at the photograph any longer. Its lost beauty burns her eyes as if backlit with fluorescence. She turns away.”
• Beirut Hellfire Society by Rawi Hage, Alfred A. Knopf. “One morning in late June, Pavlov, still in his pajamas and slippers, rushed along the street to get his French Gitanes Maïs cigarettes before the grocery’s metal doors, in deference to the impending passage of death, rolled with the speed of a guillotine.”
• land of the sky by Salimah Valiani, Inanna Publications.
Have you seen
the moon through
A square in the sky?
The moon looks like
the sun
In some measure
4 rays (instead of many)
pronounced and crisp
but not blindingly bright
• Dreaming Fidel by Heather Birrell, Proper Tales Press 2018.
“There are insects that look like sticks in this world, and birds that can blend into flowers. Do you ever want to do the same, or does it bother you a little that they do not have the courage to make themselves known?”
• Journeywoman by Carolyne Van Der Meer, Inanna Publications.
We were removed
those summers
from our lives on Boundary Road
the little bungalow on the same street
• Roll With It by Heather Wood, Tightrope Books. “Gregor was totally pumped that NASA just announced they discovered water on the moon. Apparently they did this by crashing a satellite on purpose. Because of this discovery, and as it was also a Friday night, he asked me out for a special date at a classier than usual pizzeria.”
• Terra Incognita by Adebe DeRango-Adem, Inanna Publications.
Remember the cries that came
from small workshop rooms
when you marched onto everyone’s notebooks,
left the door deliberately ajar;
spoke in bleeding headlines,
need to get the story straight
• Land Mammals and Sea Creatures by Jen Neale, ECW. “The macaroni trudged down Marty’s throat. The world outside was dark, and he wondered what was outside the front door. The apocalypse could be long over. This dinner could have started ten years ago. Maybe he was stuck to the couch and didn’t realize it because he never tried to move.”
• Two O’Clock Creek by Bruce Hunter, Oolichan Books.
Blame it on this odd day
April in January
your parents’ empty house
an appropriate choice of music
you and your tangled hair
But the wind shook loose our clothes
sent us spinning like twin spells
tremulous through the house
• Beached Whales by Stedmond Pardy, World Enterprise Books
A quadruple rainbow, stretchedddddd across, A
Our Black sheep, was about to get wrapped, Wrapped
The Golden, FLEECE,
• From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle, Simon & Schuster. “A million years of silence followed. Stars flickered and extinguished one by one, civilizations rose and fell, great pyramids were built and crumbled, yet she kept looking at me. And the wall, a thousand miles high, that I kept between me and the rest of the world didn’t exist—not a brick anywhere in sight.” (Home you'll check out my review of this stellar book in the Library 2019!)
• I know you are but what am I? by Heather Birrell, Coach House Books. “The museum was colossal and quiet, like something God had built then abandoned. Not that quiet, with the people. Tourists chasing down culture. Lisa was one of them, and it smarted a little.”
• In the Days of the Cotton Wind and the Sparrow by Rafi Aaron, Exile Editions.
“And it was the time of disenchanted boulders
pounding on the plains and a time of courageous
endeavours when green plants stood against a
southern wind, and the feathers of the peacock
searched for colour.
• Drugs by Stedmond Pardy, World Enterprise Books.
That “the elements in modern society
Destructive of the best qualities
Of human nature”
Have been laid out mercilessly
For our insatiable eyes
Countless times, you stand!!
• the innocents by Michael Crummey, Doubleday Canada and McClelland & Stewart.
“It was a foolish undertaking but she knew there was no bringing him to his senses. “I’m coming with you,” she said.
“Sister,” he said. Though he knew she would insist and didn’t waste any more of his breath trying to talk her into staying back.
• The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson,
“Your mother is a tireless turds polisher,” was my father’s official position on the matter.
That night the brothers got drunk, picked a fight, and scrapped outside the bar.
• To the River by Don Gillmor, Random House Canada. “We can’t protect them forever, of course. But parenthood is made up of thousands of these moments—something visceral in the dark when you are pressed against your child with your secret thoughts.”
• The Sweetheart Scamster by Rosemary McCracken in The Best Laid Plans, Superior Shores Press.
“And that made me sit up straight in my chair. As a financial advisor, I’m well aware there are complexities to grey romance that are seldom present in youthful relationships.”
The Umbrella Mender by Christine Fischer Guy, Wolsak and Wynn.
About the book (from Goodreads):
Much is undecided. The doctors talk over me, debating the possibility that I’ll speak again.
Though a stroke has left her mute, the story Hazel has to share is unforgettable. As a talented nurse in the early 1950s, she went to Moose Factory to help fight the epidemic of tuberculosis that was ravaging the indigenous peoples of the north. Each week the boat brought new patients from the Nunavik region to the little hospital. It was a desperate undertaking, fraught with cultural and language difficulties that hampered the urgent, sometimes reckless, efforts of the medical staff. Hazel is soon distracted from the tensions of the hospital by an enigmatic drifter named Gideon Judge, an itinerant umbrella mender, who is searching for the Northwest Passage.

From her own hospital bed, the older Hazel struggles to pass on to her grandniece the harrowing tale of her past in the north, including the fate of Gideon and the heartbreaking secrets she left behind. With arresting characters, a richly drawn setting and impeccable prose, author Christine Fischer Guy weaves a story that lingers long after the book is closed. 
My review:
I was quite haunted by this book. When I read it, in 2014, I didn’t have The Minerva Review and Ididn’t write a review at the time. However, I wanted to showcase here now, as an upcoming event, to be hosted by Christine Fischer Guy, titled, Unforgettable Women in Fiction, reminded me how unforgettable her Hazel is. She is as strong in my mind today as she was back then. Enduring characters are a mark of wonderful fiction.


Little Fortress by Laisha Rosnau, Wolsak and Wynn.
About the book (from Goodreads):
In this captivating and intricate novel Laisha Rosnau introduces us to three women, each of whom is storied enough to have their own novel and who, together, make for an unforgettable tale. Based on the true story of the Caetanis, Italian nobility driven out of their home by the rise in fascism who chose exile in Vernon, BC, Rosnau brings to life Ofelia Caetani, her daughter Sveva Caetani and their personal secretary, Miss Juul. Miss Juul is the voice of the novel, a diminutive Danish woman who enters into employment with the Caetani family in Italy before the birth of Sveva, stays with them through twenty-five years of seclusion at their home in Vernon, and past the death of Ofelia. Little Fortress is a story of a shifting world, with the death of its age-old nobility, and of the intricacies of the lives of women caught up in these grand changes. It is a story of friendship, class, betrayal and love.

My review: 
When I saw an ARC of Laisha Rosna’s book up for grabs, I lunged at it. It didn’t matter that there was no one around to arm wrestle the book from me and perhaps I was worried that book was a figment of my imagination and I had to nab it before it disappeared! I loved Laisha Rosnau’s first book, The Sudden Weight of Snow, and I just couldn’t wait to read this one.
I was slightly perplexed by the title, Little Fortress, given the book’s blurb. I wasn’t sure where fortresses would come into the picture, little or otherwise. But of course, as I read the book, it all became clear.
I don’t want to give the game away but fortresses come in many shapes and sizes and I loved Rosnau’s use of them. Women’s bodies, as fortresses, within which we live, from which we do battle daily, and which hold the sanctity of our inner strength and resources which, while strained, do not break. This is a beautiful story of endurance and survival. 


What Goes Around by Ruth Clarke, Inanna Publications
About the book (from Goodreads):
What do a corpse, a painter, two smugglers, a clever ghost, a green parrot, a fashion show and a bank robbery have in common? Set in present-day Central America, a talkative parrot witnesses a crime; friendly spirits chaperone, shape, and direct their fellow characters in criminal pursuits, in romantic liaisons and in business endeavours, allowing them to make amends, and to right some of the wrongs of history through actions reminiscent of legendary Robin Hood. Simon Patrick, an artist, re-locates in Costa Rica. He inherits a parrot, Don Verde, once a drug mule for Marco Alvarez who has left behind the body of his wife, Isabella, in the well. But this is not a run-of-the-mill smuggler, nor is Isabella a passive ghost. What follows is a terrific tale of friendship, thievery, haunting, and finally redemption.
My review: 
Vivid. Compelling and painterly. What Goes Around is a richly textured, sensual novel with a layered plot to match. There’s a crime and love, both good and bad, Wounds that would heal slowly but, when aided by the happenstance of good friends and fortune, heal more quickly. This would be a good novel to read during the bleak Canadian winter when we all need to feel as if we are in scented gardens or swimming in the ocean, feeling the sand underfoot and hearing the calls of ‘birds’


Looking Down Life, Why We Shadow Box Our Demons From The Poetry Ring, The Shining Few, A Dramatic Tribute to Emily Carr and Impulse on The Run by Peggy Fletcher.(book cover images to follow)

Four volumes of poetry by Peggy Fletcher were perfect Minerva Reader finds! My husband was on a shoot in Sarnia and one of the locations was the community centre. His workdays are a great time fro me to explore and find story ideas. I wandered into the centre and found books for sale. I found four slim volumes – what a find!
Below is an article written by Debbie Okun Hill, President, The Ontario Poetry Society, January 14, 2012 and it perfectly sums up what I’d like to say about Peggy Fletcher’s work. I find her insights and observations unsettlingly accurate to the point of being unnerving. Thank you, Peggy, for so perfectly putting words to this magical mystical and strange human experience.

"I am not afraid of dying but the prospect of wasting away is what I fear most. I want people to remember me in a happier light not what I may become at the end. - Peggy Fletcher, November 23, 2011"
"Award-winning poet Peggy Fletcher knew how to touch people with her words. Even when faced with adversity, she accepted her fate, thinking of others before herself. For those who knew her well, she was the pillar of strength, the foundation and earth matriarch that so many infant writers have leaned on. Like the wind, her ideas swirled through the minds of those she taught and mentored. Her poetry danced: spirited not only with rich metaphors fueled by the fire of her imagination but also with a vision and clarity as pristine as ice.
Born in St. John's, Newfoundland, Peggy settled in Sarnia, Ontario where she continued to retain her Eastern Canadian and small town charm. As TOPS Sarnia branch manager, she spent more time helping others than marketing her own work. In addition to being a mother of five grown daughters and spending time with several grandchildren, she became one of Lambton County's most prolific writers.

She taught creative writing, was an editor for The Observer and the literary magazine Mamashee, had her work aired on CBC-Radio and published nationally in Chatelaine and other literary publications including Room, Quills and Mobius. She was also the co-creator and one of the original hosts of Spoken Word, an open mic event at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts.

Peggy's portfolio includes a short story collection, a full-length play about the life of Canadian artist Emily Carr, and over 15 poetry books/chapbooks including Why We Shadow Box Our Demons and One Hundred Sonnets Home. For close to fifty years, she played a vital role in Sarnia's literary scene and was a mentor to many members of Writers in Transition (WIT), a local writers group that she helped to establish in 1979.

As Peggy mentioned in late November, "I am so proud to have been a part of this writing community, and having contributed a small body of poetry and art that hopefully reaches standards that I tried to attain."

She will not be forgotten!

On behalf of all the members of The Ontario Poetry Society, thank you for all that you have done for this organization over the years as well as being my poetry mentor and dear writing friend. I know you are listening. I can feel you lurking in the wind, the way you stir the earth with your fingers, the way your literary fire roars through my grief, that writer's block of ice that makes me shiver."