Library of Past Features
Coke Machine Glow
Coke Machine Glow is not a treasure you might have missed, nor is Gord Downie an unsung hero. But he is a man whose life was cut far too short and for this reason, and out of sadness, and gratitude, I'd like to feature Coke Machine Glow by Gord Downie, on The Minerva Reader this week.

I came to Canada in 2000. Yes, with one small suitcase and a portfolio that weighed more than me and the suitcase put together. That was back in the day when you spent a fortune on the presentation of the actual physical thing. 

Today, nothing's as precious as that unwieldy sum of one's life’s work used to be. I’ve still got that old portfolio. I carried it from Sydney to Hawaii to Los Angeles to Minneapolis to Vancouver to final stop, Toronto. 

Why am I telling you this tedious, unoriginal immigrant tale, you might wonder, when the post is supposed to be about Gord? 

Because, alone as I was, when I came to Canada, I knew I was in the right place. The first time I stepped on Canadian ground, I knew I had returned home. The spirit of the land knew. Gord Downie knew. He told me, in his poetry collection, Coke Machine Glow. You belong. 

I’d heard of The Tragically Hip, along with Leonard Cohen, Great Big Sea, Buffy Sainte Marie and Neil Young. And now, I was here, in the right place. 

I recently had the honour of being a guest reader at an event with Mike Downie, Gord's brother. He explained how the Secret Path had come to be, and how hard he and Gord had worked to make it happen. Chanie Wendak's story was finally told, thanks to Gord Downie and Mike Downie and Jeff Lemire (he did the beautiful artwork). This was yet another way in which Gord tried to truly make a difference and do some good to fight the injustice and cruelty of the past. Gord Downie stood for so much. Artistry, passion, justice and doing the right thing. Let’s try to emulate just a tiny bit of Gord Downie, every day. The world will be a better place.

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
  • Got No Secrets, Too Much on the Inside, For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I've Known) by Danila Botha
  • 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 Largeness of Rescue
This week, The Minerva Reader features ​​​​The Largeness of Rescue by Eva Tihanyi, Inanna Publications. 

I'm very mystical when it comes to poetry. Sometimes I'll buy a book, read it, love it and then move on to the next book. 

But when the time is right, a book will return to me – I have a message for you, it insists – you must reread me now - I am what you need. I am what your heart and soul needs. 

And such is it, with The Largeness of Rescue. 

Each poem is filled with stunningly beautiful insights, wisdom and observations – each line could be a mantra for a day ahead or, an explanation of the day left behind. 

T.S. Eliot
Chet Baker
Motherhood
Sisterhood 
Love
Grief 
Loss
Byron
Shelley

All of these are explored with a serenity that finds its way into the heart of the reader. 

Here is an excerpt:

"What you wanted to be
a resting body between the crisp white sheets of your childhood
sheets that smelled of spring because they had been dried on the line."
– You Ask

The Discovery of Honey
This week, The Minerva Reader features ​​​​The Discovery of Honey by Terry Griggs, Biblioasis.  

Terry Griggs is hardly an undiscovered, hidden literary  treasure. She is the author of Quickening, which was nominated for a Governor General's Award. Rogue's Wedding was shortlisted for the Roger's Writer's Trust Fiction Prize, and she is also the author of The Lusty Man and Thought You Were Dead. She writes popular children's novels, and, in 2003, she was awarded the Marian Engel Award in recognition of a distinguished body of work. 

But while you may know Terry's abovementioned work, you may have missed The Discovery of Honey and that would be a shame indeed. 
 
This collection of short stories is hilarious, brilliant and vivid. 

The writing that will blow you away as surely as the wind whipped the wedding cake asunder, slathering whipped cream and icing on Buckwheat, the skewbald horse. In fact, whirling dervish, devilish winds and confections of words and emotions has this collection reading like high tea at the Royal York only high on moonshine and draped in shawls of cotton candy. 

To my mind, The Discovery Of Honey is a perfect Minerva Reader recommend!

PAC 'N HEAT
This little dynamo, PAC ’N HEAT, packs a heavyweight (literary) punch! 
 
Cherries, bananas, bells and whistles, this collection features some heavyweight success stories! Maybe Ms. PacMan gave the contributors a lipsticked kiss of good luck because, in the short time since the contributors were confirmed, many of them have gone on to enjoy accolades and acclaim. The purpose of The Minerva Reader is not to promote my work, therefore, I won't say more than this about my own good fortunes: since making the list of contributors, I've published two books: The Nearly Girl and No Fury Like That, and considering that No Fury Like That hasn’t even officially launched, she’s already flying high! I’ve been in various anthologies: The Whole SheBang 3 by the Sisters in Crime, Toronto Chapter, and Thirteen O Clock and 13 Claws, both  published by the Mesdames of Mayhem, so Ms. PacMan has been super-kind to me!
 
But on to the news about the real heavyweights!
Gary Barwin, Elan Mastai and Terri Favro. Gary Barwin (who by the way, has a PhD in music composition – wow!), recently won The Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Fiction with Yiddish for Pirates (Vintage), and Yiddish for Pirates won the $15,000 Stephen Leacock Medal for Literary Humour and it made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist, and was nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award. And his collection of poems, No TV for Woodpeckers was published by Wolsak and Wynn this year. Going back to 2015, I loved I, Dr. Greenblatt, Orthodontist, (Anvil Press) and I highly recommend it as a treasure you might have missed. This man is a literary rockstar! Then we have Elan Mastai who launched his international novel, All Our Wrong Todays and the bookstores were quickly filled with copies of the book that flew out the door equally as speedily as they came in. Andy Wier (bestselling author of The Martian) called All Our Wrong Todays: “A thrilling tale of time travel and alternate timelines with a refreshingly optimistic view of humanity's future.” And the Washington Post called the novel “dazzling and complex, with an exuberant plot and fearlessly funny storytelling.” Meanwhile, the fabulous Terri Favro has been fêted as CBC’s darling, with Sputnik’s Children recommended by CBC Books as a “Canadian book for Jane Austen fans", as well as CBC Cross Country Checkup and CBC Here and Now - the book hit the charts like a shooting star with no sign of burnout. In addition to this,  Terri has a new novel launching on 5th October, with Inanna Publications, Once Upon a Time in West Toronto and prelaunch copies of the book are going like hotcakes! But wait there’s more! Terri also has another book coming out next year: Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fact Fiction and Speculation from Skyhorse Publishing, New York. Other contributors have been blazing literary trails of their own: Jade Wallace has published nine short stories, seven poems, and two chapbooks in Ireland, England, New Zealand, the U.S., and Canada. Myna Wallin has a collection of poetry coming out with Inanna, Anatomy of An Injury, while Jacqueline Valencia is working on a novel and going to library school along with some other projects. Michael Matheson has work published or forthcoming in Nightmare, Shimmer, and the anthology Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, among others as well as a first anthology as editor, The Humanity of Monsters, which was released by CZP in Autumn 2015. Michael is also co-founder and co-EIC of Anathema: Spec from the Margins, a tri-annual spec fic mag of work by queer POC/Indigenous/Aboriginal creators. Kathyn Mockler has a new book out, Some Theories (a collaboration between Kathryn and artist David Poolman), so as you can see, the contributors to PAC ’N HEAT have been extremely blessed by the gods and goddesses of creativity. 

HOW TO ORDER: Please send $20 via PayPal or E-Transfer to agpasquella [-at-] yahoo [d-o-t] com. Except, you know-- please change into standard email formatting before sending! Please include your mailing address.
 
    

This Side of Sad
Gooselane Editions describes the book as "Part mystery, part elegy, This Side of Sad begins with an ending: the violent enigma of a man's death. Was it an accident, or did James commit suicide? In the shattering aftermath, his widow, Maslen, questions her own capacity for love and undertakes a painful self-inquiry, examining the history of her heart and tracing the fault lines of her own fragile identity. What emerges is a mesmerizing tour of a woman's complex past, rendered in the associative logic of memory and desire.

A gifted storyteller reminiscent of Alice Munro or Joan Didion, Karen Smythe finds poetic complexity in the seeming trivialities of the ordinary. Meditative, philosophical, and confessional, This Side of Sad is a provocative and piercing novel that explores the disintegration of a marriage; the enduring colloquy between the living and the dead; and the meaning we find within the random architecture of despair and joy."

My review of This Side of Sad:
There's a beautiful familiarity to This Side of Sad, like accidentally bumping into your best friend from childhood and realizing that you still understand one another perfectly. And there's relief too, when she puts into words, and makes sense of the mess of the tangled past you've been dragging behind you for all of your adult life. 

Sometimes, in the untidy scramble to survive, we lose sight of ourselves and we forget why we did the things we did, we forget why we felt the way we did, and we judge ourselves for what we now feel. This Side of Sad is an a powerful and exonerating read. Yes, you think – that is what happened and why. 
 
Although the book is about grief and loss, I truly enjoyed the read.
    

Body Trade
Body Trade follows Rosie and Tanya, two young Canadian women who decide to leave the Northwest Territories and head south on an ill-conceived road trip through California, Mexico and Central America. The story takes a life-defining twist when their search for freedom and adventure brings them into contact with predators of the Central American sex trafficking trade.

My review on Goodreads: 
"If you're looking for a gripping, disturbing, enlightening and beautifully written book, then Body Trade is the novel for you. This unique story combines lyrical prose, compelling characters and raw sensual imagery. The tension, almost unbearable at times, makes you want to hurry along to see what happens next - but you don't want to rush for fear you'll miss the powerfully crafted words."
  
And I love Margaret's slogan on her webiste: 
Com'on in......there's a dialogue yet to be discovered.
"And if a writer has genuine star quality, a sharper, deeper radiance than most, then he or she ought to be identified and celebrated without delay. Time may be of the essence. Margaret Macpherson, a relatively unknown Maritime-born Albertan, is such a writer, and ​​​​Body Trade, her seventh book and second novel, is the proof. She writes with the psychological insight of Carol Shields, the gravitas of Margaret Atwood, the poetic reflexes of Earl Birney and the earthy eroticism of Leonard Cohen, but her voice remains uniquely her own."  
Lesley Hughes

Winnipeg Free Press
Farmer Gloomy's New Hybrid

This supermarket
is my favourite supermarket

Children plant bombs on the pony ride.
Peacekeepers are blown into the frozen food section.
They begin to think they’re niblets.

When the muzak stops,
the shoppers exchange lists.

The shelves are full of disgruntled products.
A box of crackers coughs in my face.
A bottle of soda mocks my beliefs.

I want to buy a bowling ball.
A woman tells me to take a number and wait my turn.

Farmer Gloomy introduces new hybrids.
They make the aisles wiggly.

The rice is so instant it is already eaten.

I replace my tongue with that of a cow.
I am voted fourth most popular shopper.

A rabbi faints in the checkout line.

I leave empty-handed.

- But, Mister, They No Have Bowling Balls Before Christ, pg. 21-22

I met the poet Michael Fraser on the Lawrence Street bus in 2007 (or thereabouts). We were both travelling west and I asked him if he would read some of my short stories. He kindly obliged.
“Not bad,” he said. “Could use some dialogue.”
Dialogue? What a novel concept!
Michael Fraser rescued me from my self-directed course of mistaking never-ending internal narrative-styled diary diatribes for actual fiction, and he guided me to the path of the real thing. He also introduced me to The Patchy Squirrel eNewsletter which in turn led me to Stuart Ross’ Poetry Bootcamp.

I’ve attended three of Stuart’s poetry bootcamps and one plotless fiction workshop. I could go wild with superlatives about the workshops and even crazier about how much I love Stuart’s work but I’ll try to keep it sensible!

And today I’d like to give a shoutout to Farmer Gloomy’s New Hybrid, a collection of poetry that most certainly would be in my desert island suitcase of books.

Here’s what the Toronto Reference Library has to say about Farmer Gloomy’s New Hybrid:
"Hilarious, harrowing, and very, very strange: nobody does poetry like Stuart Ross. In this compelling and lively collection, the follow-up to 1996’s The Inspiration Cha-Cha, Stuart Ross hones his surrealistic pen to a sharp and dangerous point. The world of Farmer Gloomy’s New Hybrid is one of darkly comic transmutations, wild flights of paranoia, and even the occasional flash of pure bliss. With the same energy and unsettling humor that makes Ross such a popular live performer, every piece in this volume -- whether it’s about an apocalypse at an abandoned drive-in cinema, a runaway shopping mall that seeks refuge in a small boy’s bedroom, a tourist in Central America who finds his fate in a bowl of murky soup, or a man who transforms into a cartoon mouse before a job interview -- is both a provocation and an escalation. In pieces like the collection’s centrepiece, the long-poem "Sitting by the Judas Hole,” Ross continues to challenge our perceptions of everyday banalities. Always unique, always entertaining, no one in Canada writes poetry quite like Stuart Ross."
 
The list of Stuart’s awards and nominations is too lengthy to post here and wait, there’s more – in addition to those accolades, he’s a fantastic editor. If you aren’t familiar with Stuart’s work, then he’s definitely a treasure that you don’t want to miss, and if you are familiar with his writing, then I urge you to reread Farmer Gloomy’s New Hybrid.
 
Stuart Ross is a creative giant of a man. And if you haven’t already done so, sign up for The Patchy Squirrel and get thee to a workshop! patchysquirrel@gmail.com

A Trilogy by D.J. McIntosh
Calling these books treasures you might have missed is particularly apt since these books are all about treasure! Antiquities, folk lore, legends and hitherto untold facts and fables from Mesopotamia.
In 2011, D.J. McIntosh took the book world by storm with her bestselling debut novel, The Witch of Babylon. Praised by The Globe and Mail for its “stellar research” and “superb writing,” it introduced readers to John Madison, a rakish New York art dealer who uncovered a fabulous treasure trove of antiquities in the hills outside Baghdad and the truth behind a famous story long believed to be a myth.
Some people compare these books to the Da Vinci Code – perhaps there are similarities, only these books are way better!
 
The Witch of Babylon
Synopsis:
Out of the searing heat and sandstorms of the infamous summer of 2003 in Baghdad comes The Witch of Babylon, a gripping story rooted in ancient Assyrian lore and its little-known but profound significance for the world. 
John Madison is a Turkish-American art dealer raised by his much older brother, Samuel, a mover and shaker in New York's art world. Caught between his brother's obsession with saving a priceless relic looted from Iraq's National Museum and a deadly game of revenge staged by his childhood friend, John must solve a puzzle to find the link between a modern-day witch and an ancient one. 
Aided by Tomas, an archaeologist, and Ari, an Iraqi photojournalist—two men with their own secrets to hide—John races against time to decipher a biblical prophecy that leads to the dark history behind the science of alchemy. Kidnapped by villainous fortune hunters, John is returned to Iraq, where a fabulous treasure trove awaits discovery—if he can stay alive long enough to find it. 
 
My review:
One of the most remarkable things about The Witch of Babylon is that it’s a debut novel – because it reads as if the author has half a dozen international bestselling thrillers under her belt. Sleek, polished and fast-moving, it's a book that grips you from start to finish. This author knows her stuff – I learned so much about art and antiquities and the content is seamlessly woven into the narrative in a way that you don't feel as if you're being given a history lesson but being entertained. That it’s the first in a trilogy is good news for the reader because at the end, you’re left wanting the adventure to continue. I can’t wait to see what John gets up to next! To call this novel an antiquities thriller is accurate but that doesn’t do justice to the beautiful descriptions of countries that one might never get to visit but you feel as if you have. The novel has been compared to Dan Brown’s work to which I say this – The Witch of Babylon is a far superior read!
 
The Book of Stolen Tales
Synopsis:
In this highly anticipated sequel, John Madison travels to London to purchase at auction a rare seventeenth century Italian book of fairy tales for an anonymous client. Madison is warned about the book's malevolent history. Before he can deliver it to the buyer, he is robbed by a mysterious man claiming to be the book's author. When his client disappears and the book's provenance is questioned, Madison must immerse himself in the world of European aristocracy and rare book collectors. As the dark origins of certain fairy tales appear to come to life, Madison discovers that a well-loved children's story contains a necromancer's spell and points to the source of a deadly Mesopotamian plague."
 
My review:
Brilliantly constructed, this wonderful novel weaves ancient myth, fairytale and modern day mystery into a book that's a fascinating, gripping adventure. This book has haunted me since I read it – and that's the best kind of read! 
 
The Angel of Eden
Synopsis:
In this highly anticipated conclusion, Madison is hired by a famous magician to find a rare sixteenth century book on angel magic and the former assistant who stole it thirty-five years ago. Madison's quest leads him from the great mosques and churches of Istanbul to the ruins of Pergamon and the temples of the ancient Near East, where he discovers the true location of the Garden of Eden, the nature of angels, and the dark story of his birth. 
 
My review:
Another five-star winner in the final book of this trilogy by this wonderful writer. I am a fast reader but I made myself take my time because I didn't want this book to end. The descriptions are so authentic that you feel as if you really are walking in John Madison's shoes and there is a perfect balance of action to description, so the story is enthralling from start to finish. The novel is filled with fascinating facts which add layers to the rich fabric of the weave, never distracting but adding texture and depth to the imagery and narrative. One of the things I so admire about this author is the absence of author voice intruding; the book is seamlessly John Madison's own. 
 
This trilogy is a great treat read. I hope you’ll check out the books and if you've already read them, then gift them to a friend!
 
*Synopses from Goodreads.

You Call This Home
This week, The Minerva Reader stumbled across a true treasure –
You Call This Home by Joan Lane.
  
I stumbled across this book at a sale at work and what a treasure to be sure!

Here’s some background on the author:
Joan Lane was born in 1931 in Warman, Saskatchewan, and grew up there and in Melville. An accomplished musician, trained classical dancer, and above all a gifted writer, she abandoned her artistic pursuits for the responsibilities of career and, later, motherhood. After her marriage to journalist Robert Hull, Joan Hull lived in Ottawa, and then for many years was a reference librarian in Owen Sound, Ontario. The stories collected in her Dumagrad collection You Call This Home were discovered with her papers after she passed away in 2008.

Goodreads says:
“The natural inclination, upon finishing You Call This Home, might be to describe it as a fine volume in the tradition of Alice Munro. One problem: Joan Lane wrote these stories in the very early 1950s—just when Munro was starting out. Some were broadcast on CBC Radio’s Anthology, Robert Weaver spotting in Lane a hint of the same talent he saw in the future Nobel Prize laureate. To cap off the similarities, both writers were born in the same year.

None of which is to suggest that Joan Lane would ever have been as great a writer as Munro. But there is a wealth of talent and accomplishment in these eight moving tales. They offer exquisite depictions of the very young, vivid snapshots of the timeless cynicism of youth, the sorrows of mothers who foresee the lives of their daughters in a flash, and the muffled private heartbreak of women life has swept aside. Set in small town Saskatchewan before and after the war, the yearnings in these stories are familiar, the emotions eternal, and the voice clear and distinctive already.” I found these stories to be powerful and haunting. I can’t help but wonder what other gems Joan might have brought to this world, had she written more.
    
 
 
    
     
    

Joan Lane.
"The stories in this collection are about quiet, yet intense emotion; the tunnel vision selfishness of childhood, a tragic familiarization with rejection, miscommunication and its resulting loneliness. There was something I took away from each story, something that resonated with me." Allie, Goodreads reviewer.

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)

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