Category Archives: Book Reviews

‘Tis the Season for Books – A Potpourri of Literary News

“the snow is solitary/but not silent/there is the piercing /of the white-stained green” – David Stones*

Writing and reading may be solitary pursuits but like the snow mentioned in David Stones’ poetic lines above, Canada’s vast literary community is not silent. It is a flurry of words, sometimes a blizzard of voices supported by a potpourri of literary activities and events.

Below is a small scoop of national, regional, or local voices, plus books, projects, and events vying for your attention. May you open your heart this season and welcome the gift of creativity. Several of the local events are free. Many of these books are available for reading from the library.

FOR THE READERS:

NEW ON MY SHELF (in alphabetical order, according to author):

Conditions of Desire (Hidden Brook Press, 2018) by John Di Leonardo. This imprint of the John B. Lee Signature Series is a 74-page debut collection of ekphrastic poems as well as six drawings by Brooklin artist/poet John Di Leonardo. Di Leonardo was recently accepted as a full-member of The League of Canadian Poets and will be the editor/compiler/illustrator for Dancing on Stones, the 2019 membership anthology for The Ontario Poetry Society. More information about this submission call is available here. Watch for a Q and A feature in early 2019.

New Books on my Shelf Autumn 2018

New books on my shelf.

Out of Line: Daring to be an Artist Outside the Big City (Wolsak and Wynn, 2018) by Tanis MacDonald. What can I say? This book of essays collected no dust on my shelf. It spoke to me immediately and I highly recommend it to my rural (and urban) writing friends. As a former Manitoba resident, I recognized some of the issues MacDonald expressed. As a current writer in rural Ontario, I also found her words inspiring. “Remember that creating art is a Long Game; it will take your whole life to grow into the artist that you are.” (p. 61)

Lost Aria cover

Lost Aria (Ekstasis Editions, 2018) by Carmelo Militano. This fifth book, recently launched by award-winning Manitoba poet and writer Carmelo Militano, features eight short stories influenced by Canadian and Italian settings. Over the years, Militano has dabbled in several genres with two poetry collections, a novel and a work of non-fiction published. He also hosts and produces P.I. New Poetry show, CKUW 95.9 FM at the University of Winnipeg. How will his short stories compare to his poetry? I shall find out.                                                                   

Insomnia Bird: Edmonton poems (Thistledown Press, 2018) by Kelly Shepherd. What a nice surprise to receive this review copy in the mail. Shepherd is not new to the poetry scene but his work is new to me and I look forward to reading this second collection inspired by an Albertan cityscape. His first full-length book, Shift, was longlisted for the Edmonton Public Library’s 2017 People Choice Award. A review of his work will appear on this blog in the New Year.

River Woman (House of Anansi, 2018) by Katherena Vermette. One of my favourite poetry books is Vermette’s North End Love Songs (The Muses Company). Her depiction of her Winnipeg neighbourhood and her references to the dying elms trees captured my attention shortly after the book won the Governor-General Awards for poetry. I’m looking forward to reading her second collection of poetry as well as her first novel The Break which has already received so many prestigious awards.

The Bones (2017) by Laura Wythe. Small book fairs are wonderful places to meet writers and Southwestern Ontario writer Laura Wythe caught my attention with her eye-catching flyer about her fibre arts show “text to textiles”. The 2018 show tied in with her novel about a textile curator who must navigate a massive flood in Southwestern Ontario. I loved Wythe’s artwork. I hope I will also enjoy her novel. How will these two different artistic pursuits mesh together?

RECOMMENDED READS:

The Nashwaak Review based out of St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. A local writer friend suggested I should read this journal. With over 400 pages filled with fiction, poetry, travel articles, essays, reviews, and art work, it is one of the thickest literary journals I’ve ever seen in Canada. What will I learn after reading two issues? Perhaps a clue to what type of work the editors may like.

The Nashwaak Review Vol 34-35 and Vol 38-39

The Nashwaak Review Vol 34-35 and Vol 38-39.

Hummingbird: A Novel (Locarno Press, 2018) by Tristan Hughes. Here’s another book with a bird on the front cover. This one caught my eye for several reasons. First, someone pointed it out to my while I was browsing at a bookstore. “The language is poetic and beautifully written. You’d like it,” she said. Second, it was written by someone who was born in the small northern Ontario community of Atikokan and I’m fascinated by rural writers. Third, it is set in northern Ontario. Fourth, the award winning author is a senior lecturer and an AHRC Fellow in Creative Writing at Cardiff University and this is his fifth book.

ON MY WISH LIST

Pall of Silence: My Journey from Tragedy to Trust (Discern Products, 2017) by Albertan writer Eleanor Bertin. What is it like to lose an 18-year old son to a hit-and-run-driver? Bertin dares to question her faith after this tragic event and to share her experience of loss and her journey towards acceptance. An interview, with Bertin, about her first novel appears here. I’m expecting her second book based on true events to be a tougher but thought-provoking read. An author to watch in the religious and spirituality genre!

PR by Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing (Two Sylvias Press, 2018) by Jeannine Hall Gailey. This is a title that I stumbled upon on the internet, proving that word-of-mouth and social media posts can indeed sell books. Written by the second poet laureate of Redmond, Washington, this book may be aimed more for the US market but it is the first publicity/marketing guide that I’ve seen that is geared to poets. I look forward to reviewing the book and posting my thoughts on my blog in 2019.

ANTHOLOGIES AND E-ZINES, WITH THANKS TO THE EDITORS

I recently updated my website to include some new anthologies and e-zines in which my work has appeared in 2018. Rather than relist them in this post, you can read about the anthologies here and journals/e-zines here.

Anthologies and journals are great places to read the work of a variety of writers. Thank you to all the editors who selected my work for their projects,

One of the highlights for 2018 was having ten of my previous published poems reprinted in English and translated into Greek. This new anthology Hellenic Encounters is the brain child of Paulos Ioannou who spent hours translating all the work for the book. Other featured poets include Dorothy Stott, Michael Stacey, I. B. Iskov, Husain Mehdi, Honey Novick, and Paulos Ioannou.

Recently published in these publications Autumn 2018

Recently published in these 2018 publications.

Another highlight was having my colour photograph of a maple leaf selected for the cover of Tamaracks, a new anthology edited by well-known Canadian poet James Deahl and produced by California publisher Lummox Press.  Watch this blog for an upcoming post promoting the spring 2019 launch dates and locations including Venice, California and Welland, Ontario.

CONGRATULATIONS DAVID STONES!

What a nice surprise to discover that the first place winner for the Brooklin Poetry Society’s inaugural poetry contest was a poem by Toronto poet David Stones. Stones is a performance poet who often adds an extra flair of drama to his readings. He can often be heard at open mic events in the London, Ontario area. A few days ago, I started reading his debut book Infinite Sequels: Poems (Friesen Press, 2013) which includes the poetic lines in the epigraph I shared at the beginning of this post. Watch for a review of his book in the upcoming months.

More information about the Brooklin Poetry Society contest can be found here. My judge’s comments are posted here and Stones’ award-winning poem plus the poems by the other winners appear under the poetry contest winners link here.

FOR WRITERS:

DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN THE BIG POND RUMOURS CONTEST?

Sharon Berg, a publisher with the Sarnia mico-press Big Pond Rumours Press, is organizing a poetry and short story contest with a December 15, 2018 deadline. See the flyer below:

Big Pond Rumours Contest 2018

POETRY CHAPBOOK MANUSCRIPTS WANTED!

Next spring I’ll be judging the submitted manuscripts for The Ontario Poetry Society’s Golden Grassroots Chapbook contest. Contest guidelines are here.

MORE CONTESTS FROM THE ONTARIO POETRY SOCIETY!

Check out the latest contests for 2018 and 2019 here.

RATTLE’S EKPHRASTIC CHALLENGE:

One of my favourite contests is the Ekphrastic Challenge run by Rattle Magazine. An image is posted on-line each month, and poets are encouraged to submit work based on that month’s image. It’s fun and FREE to submit! And sometimes it’s nice to support our friends across the border.

Not sure about the value of submitting to contests. See my previous blog post “Poetry Contests: Is it Poetic Gambling?” here

MARK YOUR CALENDARS:

More exciting news:

IN SARNIA:

For those interested in sharing their work, Open Stage hosted by Missy Burgess and John Pilat is still held on the second and third Monday of the month at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. This is open to musicians, poets, storytellers, comedians and more. Check out this previous blog feature here.

Plus a new program called Writers’ Block aimed at songwriters is held on the last Sunday of every month at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. More info here.

IN LONDON:

Voices Volume 18 Number 2 featuring members of the Lake Winnipeg Writers Group

Recently published in this Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group anthology.

On the first Wednesday of every month, the committee of Kevin Heslop, Koral Scott, and Brittany Renaud presents LOMP: reading series & open mic at the TAP Centre for Creativity, 203 Dundas Street. More information here.

Synaeresis: arts + poetry via Andreas Gripp and his committee will be launching the Mykonos Reading Series, on the second Tuesday of every month, starting December 11 at Mykonos Restaurant. More details here.

Poetry London offers a one-hour workshop followed by out-of-town guest readers on the third Wednesday of each month. The next event will be held January 23, 2019. More information here.

A listing of additional literary events can be found in the event section of my blog.

DID I MISS SOMETHING?

Juniper Fall 2018 issue

Recently published in this on-line journal.

Blogging is only one of my labours of love! I wish I had the room (and time) to mention and celebrate the accomplishments of all the publishers, organizers, writers, editors living and working so hard for so little payment in this country. Thankfully, there are others who are also blogging and reviewing books plus sharing news about Canadian writers and events.

Sometimes it’s just fun to slip away, read, and make angels in the snow!

*From the poem “SNOW” from the book Infinite Sequels: Poems (Friesen Press, 2013) Page 27 Used with permission from the author © David Stones 2013

FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FUTURE CANADIAN LITERARY REVIEWS, EVENTS, AND AUTHOR/POET PROFILES.

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Anthology Review – Our Plan to Save the World

“I was thinkin’ ‘bout going into town on Saturday. Thinking of asking that fat girl from church to go to the pictures with me. Cindy was her name.” – Phyllis Humby*

The first time I heard “Delusional Date”, the ‘coming of age’ story by Lambton County writer Phyllis Humby, I cheered. Here was a master storyteller in the making. The snappy dialogue and nuances of her characters Rafe and Cindy–plus Humby’s unique narrative style–clung to me like gum on the bottom of my shoe! Seriously, no ‘sour grape’ taste or feeling intended but the simile suited what I perceived was a cocky bubble-blowing protagonist. I applauded the way this author refused to sugar-coat her male character’s politically incorrect words but exposed all the gritty dirt and sticky elements pertinent to the plot.

P11 - Phyllis Humby as 'Cindy' - Eden Mills Sept 15, 2013

Phyllis Humby reads “Delusional Date” on the Fringe Stage of the 2013 Eden Mills Writers’ Festival.

This award-winning story also impressed the judges from the 2013 Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. They invited Humby to share her work with other emerging authors on the Fringe Stage. A video of her reading appears here.

Almost five years later, Humby continues to write and describe her stories as being “scheming, twisted, and spooky”. Her favourite storytelling medium is still the ‘novel’ of which she has written several manuscripts in a variety of genres from the ‘mainstream’ where a woman walks away from her home to move to Newfoundland to her memoir as a lingerie shopkeeper to her latest psychological thriller. She dabbled with short stories to market her name and upon submission several of them won awards and were published. Her ear for dialogue is impeccable. Her ability to hold the reader’s attention is strong.

Last year, she was asked to participate in an anthology project with four other writers: Canadians Nancy Kay Clark and Michael Joll and Americans Steve Nelson and Frank T. Sikora.

Our Plan to Save The World

Our Plan to Save the World (Lulu.com, 2018) is available in print and digital formats.

The result was Our Plan to Save the World (and other stories of false starts dead ends, detours, and determined people looking for their happy ending). The anthology (published this spring in print and digital formats) included 20 stories (4 tales each from the five contributors). Each story was slotted seamlessly in five themed sections: Set off on the search, Change the rules, Unravel the ties, Strive to connect, and Arrive at the place you need to be. Accepted submissions ranged from 2 ½ to 18 ¼ pages in length. “Delusional Date” became one of the showcased works. I cheered again!

When Phyllis (Humby) approached local writers to write a review of the book, I hesitated. First, we know each other on a first name basis so it would be a conflict of interest which I’m disclosing now. Second, what would I do if I didn’t like the published stories of the other contributors?

Out of admiration for Humby’s work, I took a chance.

Reading a new collection of short stories by an unfamiliar group of authors is like scratching a lottery ticket. Buyer beware but not with this powerfully-written anthology.

What a jackpot of storytelling to behold!

Michael Joll showcases Our Plan To Save The World

The book features the work of three Canadians and two Americans.

Don’t let the benevolent cover, the drawn-out title, and the absence of a more traditional trade publisher deter you from adding this book to your ‘must read’ list.

From a marketing point of view, the inside contents and section titles were beautifully designed and printed on crème paper. A larger print size would have made reading the collection more enjoyable. A more sinister cover and title would have better reflected the highly imaginative stories inside. Despite these suggestions, the strong content inside overshadowed any minor flaws. The 5-Star Review on Goodreads reflected my overall impression.

From first love heartaches to misguided spirituality, insanity to incest, suicide and other unexpected or unexplained deaths and more, the collection revealed dark and hard-hitting themes. Almost every story opened with a strong line that yanked me into a variety of unique settings and situations. For example, “Who the hell was St. Polycarpe?” (Clark p. 133); “I promised the doctor I’d stay off the booze.” (Humby, p.71); “Why does all the world love a rogue?” (Joll, p. 128); “If Mother knew I had picked up a hitchhiker, she would have thrown a good old Southern tantrum–” (Sikora, p. 125); and “Everything was fine until she turned crazy on me.” (Nelson, p. 82).

The strongest and most memorable characters were scarred physically and/or cerebrally: a 35-year old woman with a drinking problem, two teenaged runaways who stole a van, a 101-year old man reflecting on his love for his Rolls Royce, a student who walked on fire, Emma who was “the cruel, intriguing, and terribly lonely White Witch of Empathy”, a ‘mad’ sweetheart, a 14-year-old impregnated by a married man, a bat exterminator, and many more. Some characters were likeable. Others were detested for their stupidity or misguided actions but isn’t that what good storytelling is about? Each character felt authentic. Each life moved me.

I especially enjoyed the variety of genres: romance, historical fiction, literary fiction, speculative, science fiction, fantasy and more. Almost every story ended with not only a strong line but a surprise twist that lingered in my mind for days.

Michael Joll

Contributor Michael Joll

One of the most heart-wrenching stories in the collection was Joll’s “The Song of Solomon”, a tale of two sisters that began with the line: “All Faith wanted was to be slim and pretty like Alice, and to have at least one friend.” (Joll, p. 93) What transpired in this dysfunctional family will jolt the reader. To share it would spoil the ending!

To disclose any of the endings would ruin the book. The strength of the writing: the way it scanned and used different literary devices was impressive.

As a poet, I most enjoyed the metaphors and imagery in Joll’s story “In Singapore” where he wrote some beautiful lines. For example: “all of them small pebbles whose splash had left scarcely a ripple on his broader sea.” (Joll, p. 109).

Steve Nelson image 2

Contributor Steve Nelson

The sign of a good collection of stories by emerging authors can also hinge on its reputation with other publishers. Almost all of the works in this book were previously published in Canada and/or the United States. Credits include Ascent Aspirations’ The Crooked Edge of Another Day: An Anthology of the Bizarre, Bew Opsis Science Fiction Magazine, CommerLit.com, Lunch Ticket, Perfect Execution and Other Stories, Phantasmagoria, and Rathalla Review. Some have even won awards and honours including Steve Nelson’s “Night at the Store” nominated for a Pushcart Award.

The quality of the editing by Clark and Nelson plus the manner in which the stories were seamlessly tied together with invisible thread made this collection an equal contender with other professionally-written books.

Nancy Kay Clark

Contributor Nancy Kay Clark

I look forward to following the writing careers of these new-to-me contributors:

Nancy Kay Clark is best known as the Toronto-based writer/editor/entrepreneur behind CommuterLit, an online literary magazine she launched in 2010. Her middle-grade novel The Prince of Sudland will be published in 2018. More info here.

Michael Joll is a retired police officer and the current president of the Brampton Writers’ Guild. His first collection of short stories, Perfect Executive, was published in 2017. More info here.

Steve Nelson is a Chicago resident with a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His work has been published in The Rambler, Storyglossia, eye-rhythm, the Absinthe Literary Review, and elsewhere. More info here.

Frank T. Sikora is a graphic artist, writer, substitute teacher, and track coach from Wisconsin. His work has appeared on-line and in print in Canada and the United States. More info here.

Check out the blog The Write Break with Phyllis Humby for feature articles on each of the contributors as well as a run-down of the anthology’s process.

Frank Sikora

Contributor Frank T. Sikora

As contributor Sikora wrote in his preface: “My original goals were modest…I could just say I’m proud of the collection, but honestly, and thankfully, I can say it has exceeded my original vision.”

He concluded with “I believe we have produced an anthology of stories worth reading and preserving.”

Hear, hear! Bravo to all the contributors! A winning combination!

The anthology is being marketed in Canada and the United States.

Phyllis Humby Photo BW

Contributor Phyllis Humby

In Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, Phyllis Humby will be showcasing her work at a reading organized by Sharon Berg of Big Pond Rumours Press, Saturday, August 25 at the Sarnia Library, 124 Christina Street South. See poster below! More details will be announced later this summer. 

Check my Literary Event Listing for other upcoming Ontario Happenings.

*From the story “Delusional Date” in the anthology Our Plan to Save the World (and other stories of false starts, dead ends, detours, and determined people looking for their happy ending).(Lulu. Com, U.S.A. 2018), Page 119. Used with permission from the author . Copyright © 2018 by Lulu.com.

August 25, 2918 in Sarnia

Phyllis Humby will read from the anthology Our Plan to Save the World during Big Pond Rumours’ Saturday, August 25, 2018 event in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. (NOTE: POSTER UPDATED JULY 26, 2018)

Follow this blog for future reviews and features on Canadian writers.