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Welcome to The Minerva Reader's
Ultimate Christmas Stocking
Book List!

In an effort to expand this shared love of books, I opened The Minerva Reader up to guest reviewers, a policy that will continue throughout 2020.
 
I put out the call to the Sisters in Crime, The Crime Writers of Canada, Inanna Publications and as a general open call on Facebook. In a true gesture of the core camaraderie at our wonderful publishing house, Inanna Publications, the sisters stepped up with most support for our fine books. And a couple of the books came in with more than one review which was great – all the more love!
 
This amazing show of support is just one of the reasons I love being an Inanna author so much. Our commitment to literature and books goes way beyond the simple publication of our own work – we stand by one another and what our books have to say.
 
So a big thank you, to all the authors who stepped up, Inanna and otherwise! And remember, please keep sending me your reviews in 2020. You can find the guidelines on the Welcome page.
 
Without further ado, here is The Minerva Reader's Ultimate Christmas Stocking Book List! filled with all kinds of bounty! And remember, if you can, please order directly from the publisher or from your local bookstore. Don’t let the big guns like Amazon rule the world. Every book you buy from an independent publisher or independent book store helps make the world a better place.
 
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(In alphabetical order by book title)
 
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.
 
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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.


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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)
  
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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?
 
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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.  
 
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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.
 
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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.
 
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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.
 
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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.
 
 
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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?
 
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WE ALL WILL BE RECIEVED 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.