Editor’s Picks: New Books for Fall ’17

18 of the season's most enticing new releases

BDQ: Essays and Interviews on Quebec Comics
Edited by Andy Brown
Conundrum Press

Compiled as a volume to accompany its BGANG (French comics in English) imprint, BDQ is a loving fete of the richness of Quebecois comics, which combine the best of European high-culture aesthetics and the grassroots irreverence of North America, “Tintin meets Robert Crumb,” as the catalogue says. The significance of the collection is twofold: 1. Providing literate applause for work exceptionally well done and 2. Shining a light on the many excellent Quebec cartoonists drowning in obscurity outside the province. The essays and interviews are insightful and the samples of the work richly illustrate the history of the form and place. English-speaking comics fans will delight in the treasures that have long helped distinguish Quebec’s unique cultural output.

Firsts in Flight: Alexander Graham Bell and his Innovative Airplanes
Terrence W MacDonald
Formac Publishing

“On the cold afternoon of February 23, 1909, long before there were any airports, the frozen surface of Baddeck Bay was Mother Nature’s perfect runway for the historic flight attempt.” A story often told among Canadian flight enthusiasts and historians. Lesser known is the fact that Alexander Graham Bell’s interest in flight was decades in the making, stemming from a point of pure fascination. Bell’s many achievements in flight design are overshadowed by his cash-cow telephone patent, which had him set for life to work on other things. Terrence MacDonald does yeoman’s work bringing to light Bell’s enormous contributions to aviation, starting with some “lesser known experiments in the quiet, peaceful community of Baddeck.”

From Seed to Centrepiece
Amanda Muis Brown
Nimbus Publishing

Prospective writers, take heart. Amanda Muis Brown’s lyrical showcase of the joys of local flowers started at a Pitch the Publisher event in Halifax. The author’s exuberant passion for her subject persuaded publishers that Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley flowers, grasses and foliage–the 150 varieties of them–had good stories to tell, and Brown shares them with eloquence, offering practical insight as well into preparing and cultivating a flower garden, arranging floral decoration and keeping cut flowers beautiful. The more than 300 photographs of Brown’s farm and arrangements make for vibrant and gorgeous accompaniment.

Noble Goals, Dedicated Doctors
Jock Murray
Nimbus Publishing

An institutional history told by an insider runs the risk of boring readers with esoteric details of every road not taken and behind-the-scenes meeting you never wondered about. Dr Jock Murray, a former dean of the Dalhousie Medical School, keeps the narrative tight and focused, emphasizing the significance of the institution outside its own walls over its 150 years as of 2018. Murray gets to the heart of the matter but provides enough complexity and detail to thicken the plot, with twists of war, disaster and politics. And despite his association with the school, he is frank and forthright about mistakes made over the years. The photos and sidebars keep ensure a visually appealing story that easily carries the weight of the subject matter.

Nova Scotia at Night
Len Wagg
Nimbus Publishing

“Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet?” asked the singer-poet, long before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. And ain’t it the truth, how the shallowed angle of light as the sun sets, then the slow removal of what’s left, plays tricks on the eye and mind. It’s a different world of sights and imaginings. Whereas Bob Dylan only hinted at it, Len Wagg captures it for us in stark vistas of Nova Scotia as we’ve rarely seen it–we’re usually asleep by then–sepulchral silhouettes of tourist magnets like the Fortress of Louisburg, whales breaching at the Canso Causeway and a starry view from the Annapolis Valley look-off, to name a few.

Late Style
Barry Dempster
Pedlar Press

A few years ago, two-time Governor General-award nominee Barry Dempster told The Toronto Quarterly, “A poem needs to discover, not offer an opinion.” His work has always been about unflinching emotional exploration and discovery. In Late Style, the poet traverses, not for the first time, sick territory, specifically the notion of living through chronic illness, getting old and eventually dying. These walks bring him perpetually back to writing, because “even a death sentence wants to be shapely, clear-headed and full of beauty.” The resultant poems in Dempster’s 15th collection are replete with his characteristic vivid linguistic precision, and the aim is well achieved. Life and death come into clear focus.

The More
Ronna Bloom
Pedlar Press

A new Ronna Bloom collection–he sixth–is reason to get excited. And pensive. Her work has the quality of insight, perhaps unsurprising given the medical bona fides of the poet, who is a psychotherapist and, in fact, the current poet in residence at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. The More is a lyrical discussion of mindfulness and acceptance in amidst traumatic conditions, and afterward. Like her other work, it elucidates the conditions of healing from the worst humanity has to offer. It is poetry with purpose, which might well be summarized as “to overcome.”

And All the Stars Shall Fall
Hugh MacDonald
Acorn Press

This is the much anticipated sequel to former Prince Edward Island Poet Laureate Hugh MacDonald’s YA dystopian fantasy, The Last Wild Boy. MacDonald adeptly explores the notion that if the patriarchy were flipped, and all power given to women, the world would be a very different place. But would it necessarily be better. Is matriarchy really the opposite of patriarchy, or merely what is found at the opposite end of a spectrum? With his explicit use of vivid imagery this poet weaves an intricate page turner and ultimately explores the meaning of freedom and the power of personal choice and responsibility.

150 Canada’s History in Poetry
Edited by Judy Gaudet
Acorn Press

There is such complexity to the history of any nation, especially a colonial one embedded in a longer Indigenous history, that all the facts, figures dates and names can never do it justice. Enter the poets, unleash their gift for evocative language and let emotion convey a deeper meaning. This is history, yes, but from a different slant. Gaudet has included work from diverse sources, the well known and frequently awarded to the folk writers and emerging talents. The voices here are Indigenous, immigrant and settler. In these sophisticated tellings of history and the powerful truths of our past emerge guidance for a better future.

Terra Magna: Labrador
JC Roy
Breakwater Books

There are 268 towns in Newfoundland and Labrador. French “expressionist-colourist” oil painter Jean Claude Roy has painted pictures of every single one of them. In 2011, Breakwater published his Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, with work representing 40 years of painting in Newfoundland. Every Newfoundland town was represented in the work. Now, the artist is back with a companion volume on Labrador to complete his magnum opus. The full-colour images are stunning and expansive, like the subject matter. The text is presented in English, French, Innuaimun and Inuttitut. This book is a unique testament to the artist’s passion for place and a tribute to the fascinating cultures and vistas of Labrador.

The End of Music
Jamie Fitzpatrick
Breakwater Books

CBC Radio producer Jamie Fitzpatrick’s first novel, You Could Believe in Nothing, won him the Fresh Fish Award for Emerging Writers in Newfoundland and Labrador. So it’s no surprise his second, The End of Music, is one of most hotly anticipated books of the fall season. Fitzpatrick’s talents are on full display here, his deft touch with dialogue and the rhythm of spoken language, introspection and regret, things left unsaid and things said that mean more than the listener realizes. Also showing is the author’s passion for music, via a protagonist who surrenders his rock-and-roll dreams, himself the son of a mother who quit signing due to tragic circumstance and the need to raise him.  This is the story of the past and present coming to a head.

Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists
Margo Goodhand
Fernwood Publishing

Each of Canada’s first five women’s shelters was founded in 1973, the result of a federal granting program initiated by Pierre Trudeau and the drive, passion and utter dedication of the women who started them against all odds. Margo Goodhand left her job as editor of the Winnipeg Free Press–the first woman to hold the position–to track down their stories. With little funding or public support, these women gave refuge to wives and partners suffering domestic abuse, women no one else listened to, and started a movement that now consists of more than 600 battered-women’s shelters across the country and has situated Canada in a global leadership position on the issue of violence against women.

Busted: An Illustrated History of Drug Prohibition in Canada
Susan C Boyd
Fernwood Publishing

So, cannabis sativa aka marijuana aka pot aka Mary Jane aka weed aka Bud aka the chronic–whatever you want to call it, it will soon be legal in Canada. That’s about 75,000 fewer busts the cops will have to make each year. Suddenly their wrongdoings are alright. Hm, maybe we’ll learn from our mistakes. Or maybe not. Professor Susan C Boyd has written nine previous books about drugs and drug policies, and here reproduces some of the many illustrations and photos from the past few hundred years showing that our nation’s drug policy has always been saturated with prejudice and that prohibition has been a largely harmful approach.

Haunted Ground: Ghost Stories from the Rock
Dale Jarvis
Flanker Press

This is one creepy book. Eerie, right, chills up the spine. Ghost stories, you find them everywhere. But when you’ve got an island commonly known as the Rock, they seem to pour from every crevice and crag. Folklorist Dale Jarvis is one of those fellas who knows them all, and knows how to achieve maximum shiver in the telling. He’s got stories of spectral Viking longships, haunted shores, headless pirates and the Old Hag herself. But sometimes the fear comes from the unknown forces behind the clues: ominous premonitions, odd plays of the lights and strange voices from the misty traplines. The tales are drawn from first-hand accounts and archival record, a downright mystical mix of anecdote, oral tradition and history. 

Everything We’ve Loved Comes Back to Find Us
Allan Cooper
Gaspereau Press

Allan Cooper, author of more than a dozen poetry books and two-time winner of the Alfred G Bailey Award, is an experienced poet whose talent lies in distilling experience to the simplest, most direct possible wording, always evocative of so much more. When he asks his departed father, “Are you still following me,” readers too feel the presence. The simplicity is deceptive, more a form of grace than efficiency, a steady and elegant burning focus on the details that matter most and the anguish and delight they hold under the gaze of the observant poet.

Linger, Still
Aislinn Hunter
Gaspereau Press

Like some cagey CSI detective with newfangled technology working a cold case, Aislinn Hunter is the master of finding newness in the familiar, insight in the mundane. In Linger, Still, her third book of poetry (seventh book overall), Hunter scours old evidence and histories, taking for granted the practical reality that nothing is impossible, offering slowly escalating revelations in search of greater beauty and meaning, exclaiming philosophical insight into everything from the domestic to the deeply ecological. In the end, a loving, gentle send off involving a deer. Easy, resolute and full of recognition.

Where Evil Dwells the NS Anthology of Horror
Edited by Vernon Oickle
MacIntyre Purcell

Where Evil Dwells does something all anthology’s should: bring together the usual suspects and the shifty outsiders who can really stretch out a genre or a trope. In this collection of scary stories, writer explore the macabre and the monstrous, the ghoulish and ghostly, drawing from folklore, superstition, the paranormal and fantastical. Editor Vernon Oickle deftly calls upon his fellow veteran spooksters like Steve Vernon, Sherry D Ramsey and Darryl Walsh, but also enlists recognizable but unexpected contributors like Frank Macdonald (A Forest for Calum) and Darren Greer (Advocate). The result is a delightfully frightening set of stories with some serious literary chops.

Lesley Choyce
Orca Book Publishers

In Choyce’s latest YA novel we meet Ethan, who suffers from anxiety and self-medicated with downers, and Gabe, a girl with short hair who wears flannel shirts and blue jeans. Ethan is dealing with his parents’ constant fighting; Gabe is dealing with bullies and figuring out her gender identity. Their newfound friendship allows them to stand up for one another and in doing so better take care of themselves. It’s a bit of a modern-day parable, but one that succeeds by allowing for realistic rather than stock characters. This well written short novel is an excellent introduction to gender fluidity and/or anxiety, and is empathetic to victims of bullying.

Written By

Chris Benjamin is the managing editor of Atlantic Books Today. He is also the author of Boy With A Problem; Indian School Road; Eco-Innovators and Drive-by Saviours; as well as several short stories in anthologies and journals.

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