Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Focus On: London - Recommended Reads!

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London, Ontario is home to an especially tightly knit community of Canadian novelists, short fiction writers, children's authors and poets. The list of fine books published by London authors in recent years is long indeed, and we've selected only a dozen not-to-be-missed titles to highlight. The London Public Library's Contemporary London Authors Collection is home to hundreds of excellent books by local authors — an excellent place to begin your London reading list! Follow Focus On: London all month long for more great features about London's literary scene. And don't miss your chance to enter our monthly contest!

Exit Lines (Knopf Canda), by Joan Barfoot

Most of us are all too familiar with the particular melancholy of senior’s care centres. Joan Barfoot, one of London’s best-loved novelists, takes the setting of a retirement home and the expression “if you didn’t laugh you’d cry" and runs with them in her latest novel, Exit Lines (Knopf Canada). A group of residents at the “Idyll Inn" become unlikely friends, determined to reclaim ownership of their lives despite the dark secrets that cling to them and despite the loss of independence that aging brings. Written with compassion and dark humour, Exit Lines confronts the undeniable indignity and insight that comes with growing old in our society.

Questions in Bed (Goose Lane Editions), by Stewart Cole

Questions in Bed (Goose Lane Editions) is the accomplished debut collection by poet and critic Stewart Cole, a recent addition to London’s poetry scene. In these poems, Stewart muses on the "auto-erotic" of the daily commute, looks anew at the “five-legged creatures" attached to our wrists and imagines his sleeping self from the vulture's perspective. The questions posed in his book range from the smallest of ponderings to the greatest of questionings, but all are wrought in precise and surprising language that rewrites the familiar landscape of everyday life. Canadian poets and readers follow closely his monthly review blog, The Urge.

Read Open Book’s Poets in Profile interview with Stewart Cole here.

Astray (HarperCollins Canada), by Emma Donoghue

London is home to the internationally acclaimed writer Emma Donoghue, whose last novel, Room, sold over a million copies and was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. Astray (HarperCollins Canada) is her most recent publication, a collection of short stories inspired by actual people and events. Despite the wide-ranging settings and characters, Donoghue feels a keen autobiographical connection to these fourteen stories, which all feature displaced, lost or wandering individuals. You’ll travel further with these stories — imaginatively and emotionally — than with a dozen novels.

This Way (BookThug), by Lise Downe

Described as “subtle and dreamlike," the poems in London-born Lise Downe’s This Way draw you into their web of mystery and leave you feeling deliciously dizzy. Downe is both a writer and a visual artist, two callings that are expressed in finest form in this imagistic collection. This Way takes the popular genre of detective fiction and applies the linguistic heft of a poet and the visual intensity of a painter. Take a leap of faith and follow Downe as she collects clues and contradictions from the labyrinth of this life.

Read Open Book’s Poets in Profile interview with Lise Downe here.

Little Horse (Brick Books), by Susan Downe

The Little Horse (Brick Books) of London poet Susan Downe’s taut first collection is the breast cancer that “has hitched itself / to the inside / of my skin, slip- / knitted to my nipple." For Downe, mortality and language are inseparable. Every experience of physicality is heightened by the words and rhythms used to interrogate it in these richly lyrical but unsentimental poems. The thinking behind the poems in Little Horse will resonate with anyone who has found themselves challenged, transformed and transported by the hard work of moving through this earth in a human body.

Dubious Allegiance (Touchstone), by Don Gutteridge

Fans of historical fiction and murder mystery know that Don Gutteridge is a master of combining these two genres to create page-turning suspense novels that transport the reader to world at once forever lost and all too familiar. Dubious Allegiance is the latest installment in Gutteridge’s Lieut. Marc Edwards series. Marc Edwards is a member of the British army, serving King and country in the wayward North American colonies in the years surrounding the 1837 rebellions. In the newest book, our hero is finally poised to marry the beautiful Beth Smallman when he receives orders to counter the unrest in Lower Canada. The gruesome battles that follow leave few untouched, war being merciless then as now. The realistic portrayal of a bygone era and the lively characters in the pages of Dubious Allegiance and the others in this series will change the mind of anyone who ever thought Canada’s history didn’t deserve a second look.

Read Open Book’s Proust Questionnaire with Don Gutteridge here.

Open Air Bindery (Biblioasis), by David Hickey

There are some poems that are meant to be savoured during the long dark evenings of midwinter, and David Hickey’s meditative sequence “Snowflake Photography" is one of them. Open Air Bindery (Biblioasis) is the second collection by this London writer (Hickey is also the author of a the children’s story A Very Small Something). The mood and quality of these poems of a talented insomniac poet will keep you too reading long into the night, and you’ll find that when you finally look up from the pages, the constellations of the winter sky will look a lot more like home.

Read Open Book’s Poets in Profile interview with David Hickey here.

Woods Wolf Girl (Wolsak & Wynn), by Cornelia Hoogland

Woods Wolf Girl (Wolsak & Wynn) is the latest book from London’s Cornelia Hoogland. In this spellbinding collection, Hoogland takes Little Red Riding Hood into the Canadian woods and turns her tale on its end with sensuous and daring lyric poetry. Jeanette Lynes calls it “Riding Hood like you've never encountered her before. Hoogland has nailed it in this chilling contemporary retelling of the age-old tale. Layered and smart as hell." If you’ve always been vaguely unsettled by the tale of this little girl encountering a wolf in an empty house in the forest, Woods Wolf Girl will take you deeper into that uncertain wood.

Read Open Book’s Poets in Profile interview with Cornelia Hoogland here.

From Dream Sequins (Lyrical Myrical Press), by Penn Kemp

The incomparable Penn Kemp’s latest book, From Dream Sequins (Lyrical Myrical Press), is a work of art in every sense. First performed in 2010 at Aeloian Hall, this Sound Opera has been transformed to fit the page in this limited edition handmade chapbook. What is lost to the ears is given to the eyes: haunting drawings by Steven McCabe accompany these poetic transcriptions. London’s first poet laureate remains an integral part of London’s literary and activist community.

The Essential James Reaney (The Porcupine's Quill), by James Reaney and edited by Brian Bartlett

“Where a secret robin is wintering / By the lake in the fir grove dark / Through the fresh new snow we stumble / That Winter has whistled sharp." James Reaney is indeed one of Canadian poetries “secret robins". A poet, playwright, professor, visual artist (and more), Reaney was a creative presence in London until his death in 2008. The Essential James Reaney (The Porcupine’s Quill) is a selection of Reaney’s finest work. This is a stunningly beautiful volume that you’ll return to whenever you’re looking for just the right way to say what really matters. Also watch for Thomas Gerry’s illuminating study The Emblems of James Reaney, forthcoming from The Porcupine's Quill in March.

Reaching (Kids Can Press), by Judy Ann Sadler and illustrated by Susan Mitchell

London children’s author Judy Ann Sadler knows first-hand the reaches of a mother’s love. Reaching (Kids Can Press) is her newest book, sure to be instantly treasured by parents and children alike. The characters in this endearing story welcome a new baby into the world with varying examples of the verb “to reach". Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and grandparents reach into the infant’s world to play, tickle, snuggle and love their new family member, preparing the little one to soon reach for the stars. With vibrant illustrations by the talented Susan Mitchell, little hands will be reaching for this book and climbing into your lap with it every storytime.

Legend of the Paymaster’s Gold (Dundurn Press) by Jo Shawyer

Jo Shawyer’s riveting young adult mystery Legend of the Paymaster's Gold (Dundurn Press) takes place near Commissioner's Road near London, Ontario. The novel follows twins Sam and Eadie, who have moved into an old house that shares a haunting legend: in the chaos that followed a battle of the war of 1812, a chest of gold was lost at that very site, never to be seen again. The twins are determined to find the lost treasure, but where do they even begin? Aimed for readers in Grade 4 and up, the fascinating events, detailed settings and deft writing will quickly gain the interest of readers of any age.

Read Jo Shawyer’s At the Desk feature for Open Book here.

Buy these books at your local independent bookstore or online from the publisher, at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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