Library of Past Features
Tidal Fury
Brenda Clews is a multi-media poet, artist and video poet who interweaves poetry, painting, theory, dance and video in various ways in her work.
 
Tidal Fury, a collection of poetry and art was released in August of this year but I wanted to feature it soonest, just in case you might have missed it – and you don’t want to miss it!
 
My Goodreads review:
“What a wealth of riches is stored in Tidal Fury! Such thought-provoking insights and powerful reflections on the human condition. The artwork that accompanies the poetic narrative is a marriage of words and visuals that results in marvelous textures and layers. 

Tidal Fury is a work upon which I would like to reflect. There is such a potency to the insights that you want to stop, close your eyes and meditate on what you have just read. I am just delighted that this book will be with me to ring in the New Year, and it will be read again and again.”
 
And I have revisited the book and will continue to do so.
 
Heather Babcock reviewed the book:
Reading Tidal Fury is akin to bathing in the ocean at midnight: ethereal and erotic; sensuous and startling.

Clews writes of her muse:

“She who turns life into art
with her gaze.” *

The same can be said for Clews; the same can be said for this deliciously dark collection of poetry and artwork. 

Highly recommended. 

(*excerpt from 'The Medusa', pages 23/24, Tidal Fury)

Here are a few other books
which have, for one reason ​or another, never lose their vibrancy in my mind:

  • Her Red Hair Rises With the Wings of Insects, Wolsak & Wynn, Catherine Graham
  • A Gardener on the Moon, Quattro, Carole Giangrande
  • The Book of Stolen Tales,
    Penguin, D.J. McIntosh
  • Eleven, Eleven, Liz Worth
  • Jewels and Other Stories, TSAR Publications, Dawn Promislow
  • Of Being Underground and Moving Backwards, DevilHouse, an imprint of AngelHousePress, Heather Babcock
  • Body Trade, Signature Editions, Margaret Macpherson
  • Cape Town, Great Plains Publications, Brenda Hammond
  • Jackfish, the Vanishing Village, Inanna Publications, Sarah Felix Burns
  • Stunt, Coach House Books, Claudia Dey
  • Above Our Heads, Inanna Publications, Andrea Thompson
  • The Road Narrows As You Go, Hamish Hamilton Canada, Lee Henderson
  • Close to Hugh, Doubleday Canada, Marina Endicott
    

The Proxy Bride
This week’s featured book is ​​​​​​The Proxy Bride by Terri Favro, Quattro.
  
I met Terri Favro at a reading hosted by the Niagara Literary Festival. I had long been an admirer of her work and it was great to meet her in person.

Terri has a new book coming out in Fall, with Inanna Publications, Once Upon A Time In West Toronto, which is a sequel to The Proxy Bride and I asked Terri to comment on the relationship between the two works: 

"I originally wrote my 2012 novella The Proxy Bride as a novel that followed its main characters, Ida and Marcello, from the early 1950s to the present day. I wanted the book to be a modern, Italian immigrant version of Oedipus and Eurydice: a brave young hero, Marcello Junior, falls in love with his mother ––  or in Junior’s case, his stepmother by proxy, Ida –– who has been tricked by Marcello’s father into thinking she’s come to Canada to live on a ranch like the one in the TV show Bonanza.
            Marcello Junior is not exactly a tragic hero in the classical sense: he’s a 19-year-old gambling addict and strong-arm man for a Niagara cross-border pornography smuggling ring, who nonetheless plans to become a Catholic priest.
            Despite its name, The Proxy Bride is entirely written through the male gaze. We never get to know Ida beyond what Marcello knows of her. The book ends with the mystery of Ida’s provenance intact.
            How did the novel become a novella? I’d turned one chapter of the novel into a short story called “A Shout From God” while being mentored in the Diaspora Dialogues program. When I workshopped the story with my mentor, novelist/memoirist David Layton, he observed that the story of Marcello and Ida’s illicit love affair could be slowed down to maximize suspense and sexual tension. When I rewrote (and slowed down) the opening chapters, it become obvious that the first third of the novel could be a book in itself. Eventually that version became the novella published by Quattro Books in 2012. At the urging of my editor Luciano Iaccobelli, I tightened the timeline to a frenetic six weeks. I wanted the book to have a lot of ‘heat’ – this is a novel about forbidden sexual passion, after all–– but it’s also about good versus evil, and about mythologizing the immigrant experience. My grandparents’ and parents’ stories about the old country and their early years in Canada all had an epic, operatic, overblown quality that I wanted to capture.
            After The Proxy Bride was published, readers told me they were curious about what had happened to Ida and Marcello. And so, Once Upon A Time In West Toronto was born, a sequel hat takes its name from the Sergio Leone spaghetti western, “Once Upon A Time In The West”. This book is very much Ida’s story –– it begins and ends with her life in Venice – with the rest of the novel set in two of Toronto’s Little Italy neighbourhoods: College Street, and the Corso Italia on St. Clair West. The novel returns to the original structure of “Orpheus and Eurydice in Little Italy in the 1970s”, featuring a cast of hustlers, outlaws, gamblers, forgers and whores. I’m delighted that it will be launched in September 2017 by Inanna Publications."

Terri, along with A.G. Pasquella, edited and published PAC 'N HEAT, a noir anthology featuring stories about Ms. PacMan - it's a great collection (yes, full disclosure, I do have a story in it!) Terri has also written many short stories and recently also published Sputnik's Children, ECW, to glowing reviews, and has had an extremely successful year! 

The Proxy Bride is a beautiful novella that you don't want to miss out on.
     
    

Here is my Goodreads review of ​The Proxy Bride

​"A beautiful snapshot of a time past and present: a vignette of small town Niagara, home to passionate Italians, their lives portrayed lovingly with sensual prose and operatic lyrical descriptions. Glossy paper whores, long-gone candy stores and the cool Catholic sanctuary of an incense-fragranced church, where 19-year-old Marcello, bearing tangerine nail polished love wounds, is urged to live a more saintly life. Forbidden love and fiery heroics save the day, and all I can say is that I can’t wait to read more from this author." –Lisa de Nikolits


Death by Triangulation
"Established poet John Oughton's first novel is a fresh, funny and smart read that is not your average murder mystery (hint: it's way cooler) - nor is its protagonist, Aaron Miles, your average P.I.; as Miles puts it in the novel's first paragraph: "I'm a poet and a private investigator; poverty is my business."

Death by Triangulation is full of interesting historical and cultural tidbits that will have you reaching for Google (or Aaron Miles' preferred search engine Dogpile). But the true joy of this novel is Oughton's writing: his empathy and his poetic eye for beauty.

Death by Triangulation is the perfect summer read for those who like a little wisdom with their wit."
– Heather Babcock, author of Of Being Underground and Moving Backwards.


This week’s featured book is ​​​​​Knife Death By Triangulation by John Oughton, NeoPoiesis.
  
It’s not often you get to read a crime novel in which the lead investigator is a poet – but make no mistake, the plot is keenly mapped out – you aren’t asked to take any poetic leaps of faith when it comes to the story.
 
I first became interested in this book when I heard John read at a Crime Writers of Canada event – he read this passage and I immediately knew I wanted to read the book.
 
“He (the victim, Gavin Owen) even had acquired somewhere an early Hemingway first edition inscribed to Morley Callaghan, who had once bested the bigger Yank in a famous amateur boxing match refereed by F. Scott Fitzgerald in Paris.
 
I amused myself for a moment imagining the ringside commentary for this brief exhibition of pugilistic prowess:
 
“Hemingway comes out of the corner, and he’s leading with a short declarative sentence. But it’s not developing the plot … and now Callaghan! Callaghan’s coming in with jabs of detail – a left with an adjective! A right with an adverb! Hemingway’s confused… he can’t seem to find the core of his character! He covers his face… now Callaghan’s working the body! A quick love scene out of nowhere! Biff! Kiss! Smack! Fitzgerald calls time-out; he wants to know when either competitor will develop the sense of doom so necessary to strivers in a soul-less civilization.”
 
I also thought this book has a wondering opening line: “Great-uncle Gavin is the best-known author shot dead driving a lawn tractor along a highway,” Richard Owen told me.
 
This is my Goodreads review of Death by Triangulation:
A hilarious, original treat! Combines all the best elements of fact, fiction, humour and wry observations. A truly enjoyable, well-written read! I loved the romp through Prince Edward County, a place close to my heart. This book is also noteworthy for having a really great opening line! I learned a lot from Aaron Miles, all kinds of interesting snippets.
 
Make sure you look out for the ringside commentary as Morley Callaghan takes on Hemingway!
 
Lots of gems in this one. 
Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis
Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnonsis by Robin Richardson, ECW.
 
Are you one of those people who (quite proudly) pronounces that you do not read poetry?
 
If you are, I beg you to reconsider. Reading poetry is incredibly satisfying. Which of course, poetry readers already know – you need no convincing!
 
To my mind, poetry is the purest form of prose. The most skilled poet can bring a saga to life with a single sentence and that, I believe, is the magic in Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis.
 
The titles of the poems are so marvelous! The Second Coming: I’m Afraid of Almost Everything. The Future Should Not Be Shared. Only Fools Tell Secrets Indoors. Highwayhead’s Guide to Girls with Overbites. New General Theory of the Gold-Eyed Albino and so many more.
 
Collections of poetry are often slim volumes, you can carry them anywhere. Made for rereading, the lines that jump out at you change from day to day as your own emotions meander.
 
Here is my Goodreads review of Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis:
Such piecing imagery you want to weep with joy and sorrow. You want to shout yes and, oh no, does it have to be that way and then, in answer, you know that it does.
 
Our daily sorrows become jewels, our struggles, stars, our torments, meteors.
 
This is the kind of collection to keep handy, to read when life doesn't make sense. Robin is the great explainer, the unraveller of mysteries and experiences are magnified, turned inside out and pinned to the wall in a way that you will never forget.
 
The poems in this collection are as brilliant as a full moon on a clear night.
“Robin Richardson's poems take no prisoners, have a strange and authentic music all their own, and mark her, with this haunting second book, as one of the best young poets of her generation.”
– Thomas Lux


Lemons

A big thanks to Mansfield Press for liking The Minerva Reader and for sending me a copy of Lemons by Kasia Jaronczyk!

I very much enjoy reading the works of authors who take the clay of pain and use that material to sculpt a work of art. I love occupying a protagonist’s body from a never-visited country, in order to experience the unfamiliar trials and tribulations that bind us together in this awkward, layered, joyful and difficult thing called life. As a writer, I admit that whenever life has handed me lemons, I have consoled myself with the thought that perhaps at the very least, I would be able to get a story out of the experience – as if that would be sufficient compensation for having endured the suffering.
 
I don’t believe that everything happens for the best but I do believe that we can make the best out of what happened, and Lemons, by Kasia Jaronczyk, is a book of short stories that does exactly that. Stories about incredibly painful childhood and adult experiences are vividly and beautifully told, and there is no doubt that one is left richer for the reading.  
 
The book blurb offers this:  "In the linked stories of Kasia Jaronczyk's Lemons, the lives of Basia and her family are seen through a kaleidoscopic lens that follows them over twenty years, from communist Poland, to their new home in Canada then back to Poland to make sense of everything that has happened in the interim. It is an immigrant's story of cultural change from one continent to another but it's also a coming of age story of a young girl who struggles with her awakening sexuality in an environment where corporal punishment is the norm and every man, even from her own family, can become a sexual predator. Over time, the experiences of Basia and her mother Magda shift and refract the perspectives through which we view younger and older women as they as they age and as their cultural and material circumstances change."
 
Reading this collection of short stories is like watching a black and white art film – you’re unlikely to forget the characters, imagery or events – and you won’t want to forget them either. The cool, calm, objective and dispassionate narration of truly terrible events makes for a startling read – in fact, I found myself going back and rereading more than a few of the pages – had what I thought happened, really happened? And yes, it had. Such sharp writing and such insights into childhood abuse, torments and humiliations, and the tired resignation of adult acceptance.

Lemons is a tart, satisfying, thought-provoking read.
“In these gritty stories, Kasia Jaronczyk focuses on the intimacies of life in communist Poland and on the lingering effects it has on those who left and those who stayed. Children play in empty, concrete parking lots and brag that their fathers beat them. Family issues and sexual tensions escalate in overcrowded apartment blocks, teeming with secrecy and suspicion. The writing here is startling, and Jaronczyk’s use of language sharpens the senses. Lemons is certainly not sweet, but reading it is pure pleasure.”
Karen Smythe, author of This Side of Sad


Rosemary Aubert
"Excellent! Just loved this book. Maybe we can see something of ourselves here. Marie; we didn't know her name until the end of the story, meets a dark stranger at a "sort of" wake in Toronto for an old poet. She fell for him hook, line and sinker. Until discrepencies in his story begin to surface, she lives in his dreamworld."
​– Linda Ostrom, Goodreads

Arresting Hope
 Arresting Hope: Women Taking Action in Prison Health Inside and Out (Inanna Publications) Edited by Ruth Elwood Martin, Mo Korchinski, Lynn Fels, and Carl Leggo.
 
What a profoundly moving and important book. We are all responsible for societal and cultural change. By reading, we replace ignorance with knowledge and indifference with compassion and the desire to bring about change.
 
My Goodreads review: "A profoundly moving and important book. The first step towards actioning cultural and societal change is awareness. Awareness creates empathy which helps motivate change. The personal insights and philosophies in this book will change the way you view the disenfranchised. I truly hope you will read this book."

 
Arresting Hope features women in a provincial prison in Canada and how creative leadership fostered opportunities for transformation and hope. It also explores how engaging in research and writing contributed to their healing. The book includes poetry, stories, letters, interviews, fragments of conversations, reflections, memories, quotations, journal entries, creative nonfiction, and scholarly research. 
 
“Transformation, both personal and political, individual and cultural, depends on remembering and hoping. We need to grieve with compassion and empathy, question with critical energy, and examine creative possibilities with passion and hope.” Walter Brueggemann.
 
Arresting Hope is about all of these things – transformation, individual and cultural change and, most of all, hope.
Cover by Val Fullard. Artwork by Mo Korchinski

"A taut, timely debut focused on one immigrant family and the devastating experience that threatens to destroy the life they have struggled to build in their new country."
​– Quill & Quire

Mayank Bhatt
 Mayank Bhatt immigrated to Toronto in 2008 from Mumbai (Bombay), where he worked as a journalist. His short stories have been published in TOK 5: Writing the New Toronto and Canadian Voices II. In Canada he has worked as a security guard, an administrator, and an arts festival organizer. He lives in Toronto with his family. He is the author of Belief (Mawenzi House).

I thought this novel was a timely, touching, well-written book and while Mayank was featured in the Toronto Star and the Quill & Quire and was not therefore entirely unsung, I wanted to give the book another shoutout.
 
 My review of Belief on Goodreads: 
A sensitive, eloquent and timely novel. Beautifully written, Belief brings moving insights not only into the lonely immigrant experience, but, in particular, examines in detail the religious and racial tensions that Muslims suffer today The book also explores familial relationships that carry the unwieldy weight of traditions and legacies from former homelands, as well as the scars from battles fought there. Marriage, aging, love, complicated sibling tangles – all these are magnified and brought into focus under the microscope of Mayank Bhatt's thoughtful observations. Publisher, Mawenzi House.
    
Rosemary Aubert, as all will agree, is neither unknown nor unsung!

She is the author of sixteen books, among them the acclaimed Ellis Portal mystery series. Rosemary is a two-time winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for crime fiction, winning in both the novel and short-story categories.

She’s also a popular teacher and speaker, a member of the Crime Writers of Canada and the Mystery Writers of America, is an active member of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto where she promotes Canadian writing and encourages other writers like herself and she is a fellow member of the Mesdames of Mayhem.

I had long wanted to read her Quattro published novella, Terminal Grill, and when I did, I not disappointed. In fact, I had no idea what to expect but this pitch-perfect portrait of crazy love, written with searing honesty, kept me entranced.

Marie falls for Matthew even when she knows she shouldn’t. And yet, their union, such as it is, seems inevitable. He is driven by despair, she by loneliness. Marie’s sense of the man Matthew could have been is so strong but he’s too far down the road of destruction.

This is an interesting story on many levels and it is a haunting one.

Rosemary says of this book that it's "the story of a woman who makes the mistake of hopping into a cab with an irresistble man she has known for two hours. Thus begins a journey into danger, darkness and a love incapable of saving either of them-no matter what it might promise. It's a romantic thriller, a cautionary tale of temptation and terror."

A beautifully crafted, atmospheric and mesmerizing novella. 
Catherine Hogan Safer
I was a guest at the Saint John, New Brunswick Literary Festival, FogLit, and it was there that I had the great pleasure of meeting Catherine Hogan Safer.  

I had not read any of Catherine’s works – she had written Bishop’s Road and was promoting Wild Pieces, her new collection of short stories.

What a gem of a writer Catherine is! And there’s me, connected to dozens of social media sites, and I would never have known about her, had I not met her in person, via the kind invite of a literary festival.

As mentioned, Bishop's Road is a novel and Wild Pieces is a collection of short stories and in both cases, Catherine's work is a tour de force of vivid imagery, featuring characters you will be hard-pressed to forget. 

But it's really Catherine's style of narration and her insights that will grab you in a way that won't let go.

This is storytelling at its best – lyrical, vivid, compelling, heart-breaking and yet you will find yourself in stitches of laughter. 

When I read Catherine's work, I wonder how she comes up with the subtle and startling analogies that she does – and her voices are pitch perfect. 

I loved the surrealism that came with Bishop's Road - the timeline fluttered, then it flew – the book was a magic carpet ride. 

And no, there are neither predictable nor happy endings, in every case. But life is a heartbreaker, requiring resilience of the soul and Catherine's work is a testament to exactly that. 

​Bishop’s Road: Killick Press, Wild Pieces: Creative Book Publishing, 
​http://catherinehogansafer.com

“Catherine Hogan Safer’s stories are full of bold-faced, bald-eyed observation about oddballs and their antics. There is tenderness, poignancy, and 100-watt farce. Safer exposes all the human foibles with hilarity, and lashings of quirky wisdom.” — Lisa Moore, author, February  and Caught

“Bishop’s Road is a keeper. It has the loveable characters of Maeve Binchy, the magic realism of Alice Hoffman, combined with the insightful quirkiness of Anne Tyler…​one of the most memorable novels of the year…How the lives of these unique characters intertwine, makes for a delightful reading experience…The novel is…one of the most memorable books of the year.” – W.P. Kinsella, Books in Canada