"On Our Radar" is a monthly 49th Shelf series featuring books with buzz worth sharing. We bring you links to features and reviews about great new books in a multitude of genres from all around the Internet.
The Mystics of Mile End, by Sigal Samuel
Reviewed by Rory McCluckie in YULBuzz:
"It's this blend of mystery and Montreal life that is one of Samuel's most effective achievements but it's by no means the only way that The Mystics of Mile End succeeds. As the author told the crowd at D&Q, she has tried to work the Jewish textual tradition within which she grew up into the narrative while keeping it accessible; the way in which references to Kabbalah are sprinkled throughout the text is a wonderful complement to the mystical element that courses through the characters' lives. She's also done a good job of painting a portrait of Mile End that is vivid, personal and sure to be of interest to anyone who has known the area, past or present. The book abounds in descriptive detail of streets and people that will be immediately familiar to Montrealers despite being glazed with Samuel's particular blend of the mundane and the magical."
Street Symphony, by Rachel Wyatt
Reviewed by Patricia Maunder in Quill & Quire:
"Catching the rhythm of Street Symphony’s crowd is best achieved by reading the collection over a short period, but each story—from a mildly farcical crime tale about a wealthy senior’s travelling companion, to the pathos of a woman’s struggle to cope with her husband’s post-traumatic reversion to childlike ways—is a self-contained pleasure. Wyatt’s prose is consistently elegant in its simplicity, and occasionally flecked with appealing turns of phrase. But everything serves the narrative purpose: the creation of nuanced emotional journeys."
My Body is Yours: An Anatomy of Melancholy Masculinity, by Michael V. Smith
Reviewed by Tom Sandborn in the Vancouver Sun:
"Smith has the novelist’s ability to think in narrative, i.e. to use stories to embody and explore difficult ideas, and that talent is richly on offer in this memoir. The author is working through issues of gender, family, identity, failed and successful masculinity, compulsion and addiction that if handled with less narrative finesse could lie dead and cold on the page, reeking of graduate school cant and high critical seriousness. Instead, his deft story telling and lovely prose combine to make the pages of My Body is Yours lively, engaging and heartfelt, a significant achievement in itself. In the end, Smith, who describes himself as an inadequate and failed masculinity project, calls for a new form of masculinity characterized by vulnerability, love and acceptance. Again, these are words that have been dangerously drained of their core value by overuse in pop psychology and afternoon TV. They are, nonetheless, words that gesture toward some of the hardest won elements in any well lived human life.
The Outside Circle, by Patti Laboucane Benson and Kelly Mellings
Featured on CBC Radio's The Current:
"Pete Carver is an aboriginal warrior of sorts. He grew up in urban poverty, in Edmonton, ended up in a gang. And, as with so many young aboriginal men and women in Canada today, his warring eventually landed him in prison. Pete Carver is the main character in a new graphic novel called The Outside Circle, illustrated by Kelly Mellings. Although his story is fiction, it reflects a widespread reality for First Nations men and women... one that the book's author Patti LaBoucane-Benson knows very well. For 20 years Patti LaBoucane-Benson has worked on programs to support incarcerated First Nations people."
Come Cold River, by Karen Connelly
Reviewed by Kailey Havelock at Lemonhound:
"In Come Cold River, Karen Connelly spreads across the page newspaper clippings, a storm-struck family tree, and an elegant juxtaposition of memories and the present moment. Insistently political and delicately crafted, these poems demand not only your intention but your engagement with daring choices of form and content. She takes the reader through harsh familial and national climates set against stunning portraits of Canadian landscapes. She invites you into her troubled sense of home, shows you violence, love, and grief, and then lets the 'cold river/ rush in' (105) over you."
Uncertain Soldier, by Karen Bass
Reviewed by Ruth Latta in CM Magazine:
Uncertain Soldier is a work of fiction about two boys who face extreme bullying and duplicitous people in a World War II setting. Karen Bass's co-protagonists, Max Schmidt, 12, and Erich Hofmeyer, 17, are brought together through a coincidence of wartime. Though both have fathers, both lack a kind paternal figure at the start of the novel. By the end, they have both encountered several worthy role models and have together forged a fraternal friendship...On the whole, Uncertain Soldier is an excellent novel, fascinating for its detail about Canadian rural life in the 1940s, rich in male characters with whom boys can identify, and important in theme—that one should not be too quick to judge others.
And What If I Won't?, by Maureen Fergus and Qin Leng
Reviewed by Attila Berki in Quill & Quire:
"And What If I Won’t? deals with increasing consequences for bad behaviour in a humorous way: when mom has had enough she is pictured pulling Benny in a little red wagon to each new destination; the crimson-faced ringmaster returns Benny to his mother by the scruff of the neck; and the aliens slingshot the little terror back to earth. His mother’s love is never in doubt; in all of Qin Leng’s lively illustrations the pink tones of Mom’s sweatshirt predominate, and even at the height of exasperation her tone remains gentle. But that doesn’t mean the young lad can get away with anything at home, even if he has, hypothetically, travelled to outer space. Not surprisingly, the story ends with Benny’s mom asking him to please put his plate in the sink."
Four distinct voices weave together the tale of a dysfunctional Montreal family obsessed with climbing the Kabbalah's Tree of Life. This literary debut by Jewish Daily Forward editor Sigal Samuel is reminiscent of Nicole Krauss's The History of Love and Myla Goldberg's Bee Season.
The Meyer family lives in Mile End, home to a mashup of hipsters and …
A woman carries a placard bearing the question "Are you content to be nothing?" as she conducts her way through the interconnected stories of this thought-provoking collection. A pianist herself, eventually she'll be the soloist in her own story, but first we'll encounter the contrapuntal lines of "Café Society", the discord of "The Companion's Ta …
A memoir about fathers and sons, breaking out of gender norms, and reconciling with a dangerous childhood.
Lambda Literary Award finalist
Michael V. Smith is a multihyphenate force of nature: a novelist, poet, improv comic, filmmaker, drag queen, performance artist, and occasional clown. In this, his first work of nonfiction, Michael traces his ear …
A Graphic Novel
Winner, CODE’s 2016 Burt Award for First Nation, Inuit and Métis Literature
In this important graphic novel, two brothers surrounded by poverty, drug abuse, and gang violence, try to overcome centuries of historic trauma in very different ways to bring about positive change in their lives.
Pete, a young Indigenous man wrapped up in gang violence, …
In Karen Connelly's first collection of poetry since The Border Surrounds Us, the poet offers up a searing, complex portrayal of her troubled family. Refracted, augmented, drawn through various cities, streets and fields, over mountain ranges and foreign landscapes, this portrayal grows into an authentic homage to people who are often invisibilized …
It's WWII. Erich, a young German prisoner of war who dislikes Nazism, and Max, the twelve-year-old son of German immigrants, become friends when Erich is sent to work at a Canadian logging camp near Max’s town. But with a saboteur haunting the logging camp and anti-German feeling running high in town, their friendship puts them both in danger.
When Benny’s mother asks him to put his dirty plate in the sink, he responds by asking: “What would you do if I said no?” Her answer is predictable, but not enough for Benny, whose “what if?” line of questioning continues as he dreams up increasingly naughty behavior: What if he threw his plate at the wall? What if he jumped on the couch …