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Editors' Picks: Week of January 14–20

By kileyturner
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tagged: Fiction
This week in Editors' Picks, we're spotlighting exciting new works from authors whose debut or sophomore books got lots of buzz, authors like Mona Awad, Kris Bertin, Amy Jones, Megan Gail Coles, Shandi Mitchell, Nancy Jo Cullen, Missy Marston, Andrew Forbes, and Karen Hofmann.


also available: Paperback

The Vegetarian meets Heathers in this darkly funny, seductively strange novel from the acclaimed author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

Samantha Heather Mackey couldn't be more different from the other members of her master's program at New England's elite Warren University. A self-conscious scholarship student who prefers the company of her imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort--a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call ea …

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We call them Bunnies because that is what they call each other. Seriously. Bunny.

Hi, Bunny!
Hi, Bunny!
What did you do last night, Bunny?
I hung out with you, Bunny. Remember, Bunny?
That’s right, Bunny, you hung out with me and it was the best time I ever had.
Bunny, I love you. I love you, Bunny.

And then they hug each other so hard I think their chests are going to implode. I would even secretly hope for it from where I sat, stood, leaned, in the opposite corner of the lecture hall, department lounge, auditorium, bearing witness to four grown women—my academic peers—cooingly strangle each other hello. Or good-bye. Or just because you’re so amazing, Bunny.  How  fiercely  they  gripped  each  other’s  pink-and-white  bodies, forming a hot little circle of such rib-crushing love and understanding it took my breath away. And then the nuzzling of ski-jump noses, peach fuzzy cheeks. Temples pressed against temples in a way that made me think of the labial rubbing of the bonobo or the telepathy of beautiful, murderous children in horror films. All eight of their eyes shut tight as if this collective asphyxiation were a kind of religious bliss. All four of their glossy mouths making squealing sounds of monstrous love that hurt my face.

I love you, Bunny.

I quietly prayed for the hug implosion all year last year. That their ardent squeezing might cause the flesh to ooze from the sleeves, neckholes, and A-line hems of their cupcake dresses like so much inane frosting. That they would get tangled in each other’s Game of Thrones hair, choked by the ornate braids they were forever braiding into each other’s heart-shaped little heads. That they would choke on each other’s blandly grassy perfume. Never happened. Not once.

They always came apart from these embraces intact and unwounded despite the ill will that poured forth from my staring eyes like so much comic-book-villain venom. Smiling at one another. Swinging clasped hands. Skins aglow with affection and belonging as though they’d just been hydrated by the purest of mountain streams.

Bunny, I love you.

Completely immune to the disdain of their fellow graduate student. Me. Samantha Heather Mackey. Who is not a Bunny. Who will never be a Bunny.

I pour myself and Ava more free champagne in the far corner of the tented green, where I lean against a white Doric pillar bedecked with billowing tulle. September. Warren University. The Narrative Arts department’s annual welcome back Demitasse, because this school is too Ivy and New England to call a party a party. Behold the tigerlily-heavy centerpieces. Behold the Christmas-lit white gauze floating everywhere like so many ghosts. Behold the pewter trays of salmon pinwheels, duck-liver crostini topped with little sugared orchids. Behold the white people in black discussing grants they earned to translate poets no one reads from the French. Behold the lavish tent under which the overeducated mingle, well versed in every art but the one of conversation. Smilingly oblivious to the fact that they are in the mouth of hell. Or as Ava and I call it, the Lair of Cthulhu. Cthulhu is a giant squid monster invented by a horror writer who went insane and died here. And you know what, it makes sense. Because you can feel it when you’re walking down the streets beyond the Warren Bubble that this town is a wrong town. Something not quite right about the houses, the trees, the light. Bring this up and most people just look at you. But not Ava. Ava says, My god, yes. The town, the houses, the trees, the light—it’s all fucked.

I stand here, I sway here, full of tepid sparkling and animal livers and whatever hard alcohol Ava keeps pouring from her Drink Me flask into my plastic cup. “What’s in this again?” I ask.

“Just drink it,” she says.

I observe from behind borrowed sunglasses as the women whom I must call my colleagues reunite after a summer spent apart in various trying locales such as remote tropical islands, the south of France, the Hamptons. I watch their fervent little bodies lunge for each other in something like rapture. Nails the color of natural poisons digging into each other’s forearms with the force of what I keep telling myself is feigned, surely feigned, affection. Shiny lips parting to call each other by their communal pet name.

“Jesus, are they for real?” Ava whispers in my ear now. She has never seen them up close. Didn’t believe me when I first told her about them last year. Said, There is no way grown women act like that. You’re making this up, Smackie. Over the summer, I started to think I had too. It is a relief in some ways to see them now, if only to confirm I am not insane.
“Yes,” I say. “Too real.”

I watch her survey them through her fishnet veil, her David Bowie eyes filled with horror and boredom, her mouth an unimpressed red line.

“Can we go now?”

“I can’t leave yet,” I say, my eyes still on them. They’ve pulled apart from one another at last, their twee dresses not even rumpled. Their shiny heads of hair not even disturbed. Their skins glowing with health insurance as they all crouch down in unison to collectively coo at a professor’s ever jumping shih tzu.


“I told you, I have to make an appearance.”

Ava looks at me, slipping drunkenly down the pillar. I have said hello to no one. Not the poets who are their own fresh, grunty hell. Not the new incoming fiction writers who are laughing awkwardly by the shrimp tower. Not even Benjamin, the friendly administrator to whom I usually cling at these sorts of functions, helping him dollop quivering offal onto dried bits of toast. Not my Workshop leader from last spring, Fosco, or any other member of the esteemed faculty. And how was your summer, Sarah? And how’s the thesis coming, Sasha? Asked with polite indifference. Getting my name wrong always. Whatever response I offer—an earnest confession of my own imminent failure, a bald-faced lie that sets my face aflame—will elicit the same knowing nod, the same world-weary smile, a delivery of platitudes about the Process being elusive, the Work being a difficult mistress. Trust, Sasha. Patience, Sarah. Sometimes you have to walk  away, Serena. Sometimes, Stephanie, you have to seize the bull by the horns. This will  be followed by the recounting of a similar creative crisis/breakthrough they experienced while on a now-defunct residency in remote Greece, Brittany, Estonia. During which I will nod and dig my fingernails into my upper-arm flesh.

And obviously I haven’t talked to the Lion. Even though he’s here, of course. Somewhere. I saw him earlier out of the corner of my eye, more maned and tattooed than ever, pouring himself a glass of red wine at the open bar. Though he didn’t look up, I felt him see me. And then I felt him see me see him see me and keep pouring. I haven’t seen him since then so much as sensed him in my nape hair. When we first arrived, Ava felt he must be nearby because look, the sky just darkened out of nowhere.

This evening, all I have done in terms of socializing is half smile at the one the Bunnies call Psycho Jonah, my social equivalent among the poets, who is standing alone by the punch, smiling beatifically in his own antidepressant-fueled fever dream.

Ava sighs and lights a cigarette with one of the many tea lights that dot our table. She looks back at the Bunnies, who are now stroking each other’s arms with their small, small hands. “I miss you, Bunny,” they say to each other in their fake little girl voices, even though they are standing right fucking next to each other, and I can taste the hate in their hearts like iron on my tongue.

“I miss you, Bunny. This summer was so hard without you. I barely wrote a word, I was so, so sad. Let’s never ever part again, please?”

Ava laughs out loud at this. Actually laughs. Throws her feathery head back. Doesn’t bother to cover her mouth with her gloved hand. It’s a delicious, raucous sound. Ringing in the air like the evening’s missing music.

Shhhhh,” I hiss at her. But it’s already done.

The laughter causes the one I call the Duchess to turn her head of long, silver faery-witch locks in our direction. She looks at us. First at Ava. Then at me. Then at Ava again. She is surprised, perhaps, to see that for once I’m not alone, that I have a friend. Ava meets her look with wide-open eyes the way I do in my dream stares. Ava’s gaze is formidable and European. She continues to smoke and sip my champagne without breaking eye contact. She once told me about a staring contest she had with a gypsy she met on a metro in Paris. The woman was staring at her, so Ava stared back—the two of them aiming their gazes at each other like guns—all the way across the City of Lights. Just looking at each other from opposite shores of the rattling train. Eventually Ava took off her earrings, still not taking her eyes off the woman. Why? Because her assumption at that point, of course, was that the two of them would fight to the death. But when the train pulled into the last stop on the line, the woman just stood to exit, and when she did so, she even held back the sliding doors politely, so Ava could go first.

What’s the lesson here, Smackie? Don’t jump to conclusions?
Never lower your gaze first.
The Duchess, in turning toward us, causes a ripple effect of turning among the other Bunnies. First Cupcake looks over. Then Creepy Doll with her tiger eyes. Then Vignette with her lovely Victorian skull face, her stoner mouth wide open. They each look at Ava, then at me, in turn, scanning down from our heads to our feet, their eyes taking us in like little mouths sipping strange drinks. As they do, their noses twitch, their eight eyes do not blink, but stare and stare. Then they look back at the Duchess and lean in to each other, their lip-glossed mouths forming whispery words.

Ava squeezes my arm, hard.

The Duchess turns and arches an eyebrow at us. She raises a hand up. Is there an invisible gun in it? No. It’s an empty, open hand. With which she then waves. At me. With something like a smile on her face. Hi, her mouth says.

My hand shoots up of its own accord before I can even stop myself. I’m waving and waving and waving. Hi, I’m saying with my mouth, even though no sound comes out.

Then the rest of the Bunnies hold up a hand and wave too.

We’re all waving at one another from across the great shores of the tented green.

Except Ava. She continues to smoke and stare at them like they’re a four-headed beast. When at last I lower my hand, I turn to her. She’s looking at me like I’m something worse than a stranger.

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Every Little Piece of Me

Every Little Piece of Me


From the bestselling author of We're All in This Together comes a novel about family, friendship, fame, and the cost of living in the public eye -- because when everyone suddenly knows your name, it's easy to forget who you really are.

"The first time they met, Mags saved Ava's life. The second time they met, Ava saved Mags's."
     Ava Hart is the most reluctant cast member of a reality TV show based on her big city family's (mostly staged) efforts to run a B&B in small-town Nova Scotia. Every …

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November 2014


Mags hadn’t expected the club to be so crowded. The band’s previous shows in New York had been sparsely attended. But Align Above’s new album had dropped a few weeks before, and tonight there was an electricity in the air, something that she couldn’t explain. In the green room she drank half a fifth of whiskey and smoked three joints before stumbling on stage in a haze, her body hot and cold at the same time, her skin sweaty and goose-pimpled.
     “I’m fine,” she told Emiko, her manager, who held Mags’s face in both her hands and stared into her eyes like she was trying to see into the future. “This is what I need. This is what I do.”
     She sang. She knows she must have, because people were cheering— so many people, the audience a big blur of colour in front of her, pulsing with vague outlines of human forms. Adrift, she locked eyes with a beautiful Asian boy while she was singing “Barometer”— a song she had written about Sam, so new she had only ever played it live once before— and she was surprised to see that he was singing along, gazing at her with such naked adoration that it made her shiver. “You will rise, I will rise, we will rise, like a barometer,” she sang, and his mouth moved with hers, almost as though he was claiming her voice somehow, making the words his own in a way that momentarily startled her, her hand dropping from the mic, her voice fading out before the end of the line.
     After the show, she found him in the hallway outside the green room, waiting for her. He was just a kid, a scruffy teenager with doe eyes and expensive sneakers, a forelock of hair sweeping down across his brow. But she could feel the relentless pull of the pit, that gaping maw of a comedown she ran from at the end of every show, so she pressed herself up against him, the contours of his body meeting hers in a way that was familiar and yet unfamiliar, like wearing someone else’s shoes. 
     “Do you have somewhere we could go?” she asked, lips inches from his ear, which fluttered almost imperceptibly as she breathed against it.
     “I have my own place,” he said, and she could feel the newness of those words in his mouth, how good it felt for him to say them.
     They were in the Uber by the time she started second-guessing herself, realizing too late he wasn’t even close to what she wanted. But it wasn’t until they got to his apartment and she saw all the video cameras that she knew she’d made a huge mistake.
     “I’m not a pervert or a weirdo, I swear,” he said, his doe eyes clouding over with worry as she inched toward the door. “It’s this stupid reality show I’m on. They leave the cameras set up all the time.”
     “Reality show?” Mags was sobering up, and all she could see were blinking lights, red and green and blue, cables tangling across the floor like tussling snakes. She suddenly felt as though the entire world was watching her, as if they could see through the eye of the lens right into the depths of her soul.
     “They’re not on right now, I promise,” the boy said. “See?” He picked up a cable attached to a camera and showed her the dangling end. Mags realized the blinking lights were all in her head. “There’s a schedule. They’re only on when the crew is here.”
     Mags stepped toward the camera tentatively, as if it were a wild animal she wanted to feed from her hand. She touched the top of the lens, which was coated with a fine layer of dust, and blew the dust away gently. “That doesn’t seem very real,” she said.
     The boy laughed nervously. “It’s not,” he said. “There’s nothing real about reality television, trust me.”
     She moved around the room, feeling the boy’s eyes on her. At least the reality show explained the apartment—sparsely but tastefully furnished, with high ceilings and exposed brick, a pool table at one end of the living room and an entire row of expensive guitars lining the opposite wall. She wandered over and picked one up, strumming it before realizing it was a vintage Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst. And it was signed.
     “Eric Clapton,” the boy said, shrugging. “I got it at an auction last year.”
     Mags ran her fingers over the strings. It probably cost more than all of Align Above’s equipment combined. But the boy didn’t seem to care—he hadn’t rushed over to grab it from her, hadn’t kept it under lock and key. “Do you actually play this?” she asked.
     “What’s the point of a guitar if you don’t play it?” He took it from her and began strumming softly. Oh no, thought Mags, please don’t. But then he started singing, his voice soft and earnest, and she could do nothing but sit there, helplessly listening, not knowing whether she should laugh or cry. At least it wasn’t one of her songs— from what she could tell, it was something he had written himself, probably during a period when he was listening to a lot of melancholy stuff, Bon Iver or The National. When he stopped singing, she smiled at him, and before he could launch into his next number, she kissed him, the guitar pressed between them, the strings mashed up against her belly.
     Later, Mags got up from the boy’s bed in the dark and walked naked to the bathroom, keeping the water cool as she splashed it over her face, avoiding her own red eyes in the mirror. Walked back through the apartment, head jumbled, running her hands over the exposed brick, heading toward the balcony to see those lights of Tribeca, wondering what it must be like to live here, to live this life.
     Before Mags made it halfway across the living room she saw her, through the glass doors of the balcony— a woman wearing only a T-shirt and underwear, climbing up onto the parapet, her pale skin scraping across the concrete as she stood up on the ledge. Mags grabbed a blanket from the couch, scratchy and wool but big enough to cover herself, and rushed to the balcony, the wind hurtling itself at her as she hauled open the doors, all rust and smog.As soon as the doors opened she realized she had no idea what to do. She tried to remember how high up they were— four storeys, five? Surely high enough.
     “Hello,” Mags said quietly.
     The woman turned to face her, and Mags realized she was still a girl, really, barely out of her teens. There was something vaguely familiar about her. Her eyes were a startling blue, her hair white-blonde and cut close to her head in a haphazard way that made Mags think she had done it herself. Her T-shirt had a picture of a fairy on it, possibly a cartoon character from a television show Mags had never seen. Even as she balanced there on the parapet, she stood with her back straight, her hand on her hip, her head angled at a perfect, fashion-model 45 degrees as she regarded Mags through mildly inquisitive eyes.
     “It’s you,” the woman said. She dragged both her hands down her thighs as though she were drying off sweaty palms. For a moment, Mags thought she was going to reach out to shake her hand, but instead she crossed her arms over her chest, cutting off the head of the cartoon fairy. “What are you doing here?”
     Mags didn’t say anything for a minute, afraid the truth might push this woman over the edge. “Are you planning on jumping?” she asked instead.
     The woman dipped her toe off the ledge, her eyes drawn to the street below. Then she pulled her toe back and turned to face Mags again. “Are you naked under that blanket?”
     Mags glanced down at her round calves and bare feet sticking out of the bottom of the blanket, which hung just above her knees. “I guess when I saw you climb up on that ledge, finding clothes wasn’t exactly my first priority.”
     Narrowing her eyes, the woman crossed her arms tighter over her chest. “You slept with Val,” she said.
     Val. Mags knew the boy’s name, but it was so much easier to think of him as “the boy,” as if he were the only one. But now. Val. She nodded.
     “Good for you. My brother loves you, you know. The show tonight was the only thing he could talk about for weeks.”
     “He’s your brother?” Mags asked.
     “We’re both adopted,” the woman said. “Everyone knows this. You know this.” She paused. “Or maybe you thought I was his girlfriend.”
     “No,” said Mags, realizing she hadn’t. But she didn’t want to talk about Val anymore. And she was sick of talking about herself. Sick of herself in all kinds of ways. Maybe just sick. “Can we get back to talking about why you’re standing on that ledge?”
     “I’m pretty sure I’m going to jump,” the woman said, without drama, without pathos. I’m. Going. To. Jump.
    “Pretty sure?”
     “Very sure.” She spread her arms wide, an eagle about to take flight.
     Mags thought about all the things she could say. No. Don’t do it. You have so much to live for. But did she? How could she know? “What’s your name?” she asked instead, stalling.
     The woman stared at her, her body silhouetted against the New York skyline, backlit by the lights from a thousand different windows, a thousand different lives being lived. Then she started to laugh, a huge, aching belly laugh that Mags worried would propel her off the edge through the sheer force of its kickback. When she finally stopped laughing, she looked out over the city again. It was like a switch had flipped, and she was back to thinking about whatever it was that called to her.
     “It’s Ava,” she said. “You might be the only person in New York who doesn’t know that.”

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Use Your Imagination!

Use Your Imagination!


A woman becomes obsessed with a story about her family from 1890—when a naked, mute girl stumbled onto their property—and whether or not it really happened. A self-help guru and his chief strategist take their most affluent and unstable clients on a harrowing nature hike that destroys their company. A young convict in a prison creative writing class chronicles the rise and fall of his cellblock's resident peacemaker. A rural neighbourhood becomes obsessed by the coming of a strange and power …

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The Waiting Hours

The Waiting Hours


“The most impressive trick of this book – and it is a very good one – is the way Mitchell pulls off a literary thriller that is as suspenseful as it is introspective.” - The Globe and Mail
When you spend your life saving others...who will be there to save you?

When tragedy erupts on a stifling summer night, three ordinary people, with the extraordinary jobs of rescuing strangers, are connected to one another in ways both explicit and invisible. Each is deeply devoted to what they do, but …

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Kate swung open the jeep’s rear gate and was greeted by Zeus’s tail thumping against the wire crate. Eager to be released, he stretched and pawed the latch. She made a visual check of her search-and-rescue gear, first aid kits, rations, dog supplies, all-weather kit, boots, and backpack. All that was needed to sustain them for a couple of days. Nothing had shifted. She unhitched the crate door and Zeus waited for her to indicate work or play. She fastened a line to his collar, and his tail hoisted higher. It wasn’t work yet.

“Ally-oop,” she said.

He jumped from the hatch, his nose to the ground before his hindquarters landed.

“Do your business.”

Trailing the line behind him, he headed around the SUV to check out the tires.

Kate scanned the debris field of twisted rebar, concrete slabs, mangled cars, and a collapsing barn. Flames and black smoke churned from a rusted oil drum. The team had done a good job mocking up the scene. It wouldn’t be an easy test.

Zeus bumped her fist with his nose.

“Done already?”

He sat and looked up at her.

“You think you need a treat?”

She opened her hand. It was empty. He nudged the other hand. Nothing. He looked to her eyes and breathed her in. He liked this game. Snuffling over her jeans, he focused on her right pocket. His velvety snout brushed her wrists and palm. He was correct. A biscuit had been in that hand and that pocket.

He circled her legs. His nostrils flared, inhaling sharp breaths and snorting out short puffs. He was filtering all that was extrane­ous to extract the singular scent, separating the air he breathed and the cookie he wanted. He licked his nose, heightening the sensitivity of the million receptors that catalogued his world.

The conditions weren’t ideal. In this heat, his nose would dry out quickly. She lightly tapped its wetness. He expelled her scent with a breath and zeroed in on her left ankle. His tail wagged faster. His tail was incapable of lying. His nose bumped her boot top and he sat expectantly, snorting one small woof. She hoisted her pant leg. Ever so gently, his lips tickling her shin, he extracted the biscuit protruding from her hiking boot’s cuff. In one crunch, the biscuit was gone.

She looked to the assessment officer overseeing the exer­cise. It was Riley. Beside him, Heather was serving as designated note taker. His wife was still in basic training with a six-month-old Belgian Malinois that was far too much dog for her to handle. She wasn’t a strong trainer. She flustered easily and talked too much. It definitely wasn’t her calling. Unlike her husband, who was legendary in the search-and-rescue community.

Riley had a reputation for impossible finds, unwavering calm, and a relentless will. He had been a medic in Iraq until he took IED shrapnel in his chest. He had told Kate about the girl who rode on the back of her father’s bicycle and her brother who sat on the handlebars. How he gave the boy a chocolate bar and the girl a pack of gum and how shyly the little girl took it. She wore a poppy-red dress and matching velvet shawl embossed with full-blown roses stitched with golden thread. He showed the little girl how to blow a bubble. It was large and pink, and her eyes widened when it popped.

In the camouflage of night, when she couldn’t see his face, he had told her about the sound an IED makes five hundred feet away, detonating in the trunk of a car. How the pressure drops as the concussion kicks your chest, and the air is sucked from your lungs. And the silence. The depth of silence, right after, and the fall-on-your-knees beauty of white smoke against a robin’s-egg sky. He told her how hot the parts of a bicycle get when it has been incinerated . . . and the weight of what remains of a poppy-red child. He told her this as her fingers traced rose-petal scars on his bare chest. Zeus looked up the leash. He felt her tension in the line. She smiled and loosened her hold. All’s good.

She watched Riley and practised not caring. He was a good-looking man and tough. During SAR’s brutal three-day winter survival certification, he broke his ankle less than half a mile from course completion. He wanted to keep going, and she didn’t doubt he would have crawled to the finish line if they had let him. As it was, he had to run the course again the following winter. He set a new record.

Every team member was loyal to him, and every handler aspired to reach the mastery of Riley and his beloved Belgian, Annabelle. Despite the pressure to get another pup before she died, he refused. They say he was with her at the end. They don’t know he injected the needle. Kate understood why he couldn’t get another dog. He had been with Annabelle for ten years. Four years longer than his wife. She had never seen him interact with his wife’s unruly pup. Kate looked to Zeus. She couldn’t imagine bringing home another dog.

Riley’s arm shot up in the air. It was time.

She grabbed Zeus’s working vest from the truck and he fell in tight against her leg, assuming the heel position. She slipped the stiff Kevlar vest over his back and secured the straps across his belly and broad chest. She completed the task in under thirty seconds. No talking. No dallying. This was work. She strode to the edge of the field. She had trained Zeus for both tracking and air scent. He could alert for cadaver or survivor. It gave him versatility as a search-and-rescue dog. They had never failed a certification test.

Near the burn barrel, Chris and Jake were sitting at the pump truck monitoring the fire. It was twenty-eight Celsius and they were wearing black T-shirts, turnout pants, and boots. The fire boys could have been posing for a calendar. She wondered who the volunteer victim was this week. There were three other dogs run­ning. A German shepherd had already failed with an off-course. She was the only civilian without military training attempting qualifications today. Riley nodded and his arm dropped.

She leaned over and patted Zeus’s lean, muscular side.

“Find live,” she said and unleashed his lead.

Zeus bolted forward. He huffed the air, making quick tight loops over the drought-stricken grass. He swept the open field in a grid pattern. In this stagnant heat, he would be working the updrafts. She kept pace behind him. He ignored the pumper truck crew, but she noticed the bob of his nose indicating their presence and his dismissal, as though he knew it was too easy. He kept course, not slowing or veering around the billowing smoke. She tasted gasoline and wood at the back of her throat.

His head swung back and forth, his body leaned in, and his ears perked forward. His nose popped up. He was on a scent and she jogged to keep up. Her muscles responded with the easy lope of her daily two-mile runs. It was more than a scent he was follow­ing. A scent was the past, a memory. He was gathering a story assembled through pheromones, skin cells, follicles, bruised grass, snapped twigs, and the molecular compositions of man-made scents—the traces left behind.

If he were trailing an animal, he would know the species, gender, and social order, alpha or follower. He’d be able to dis­cern what paths it travelled, the food it ate, and whether it was friend, foe, or prey. Presumably, with a human he could smell the cheapness of their shoes, the sourness of their pants, the soap used, the scrape of a knee, nicotine on fingers, alcohol in pores, and the cancer in their bones. He could smell fear. And death. And weakness. He could smell narrative. She often wondered if he knew the outcome before he reached the ending.

His ears twitched and she noticed the slight rotation of his head, widening his peripheral scope. He was working the scent cone, intent on his directive to find “live.” With a sharp bark, a thrust of his nose, and a sit, he indicated the objects on the ground as possible clues. She marked a sock, a glove, a ball—his eyes watched hers: this might be something. “Good boy,” she said.

His path oscillated and the cone of his track narrowed. He zeroed in on the debris pile. Pacing the base of the massive, upturned cement blocks, he looked for a pathway up and leapt. His hind legs clawed, his hocks knocked concrete, and he scram­bled up and over. Kate’s knee clunked the ragged edge.

Zeus nimbly treaded the twisted rebar, tangled wires, and large rocks that had been heaved up onto the loose boards and ply­wood sheets. Kate noted the clothing strewn about to condition her emotional fortitude—a pink floral dress, a plaid shirt, and a baby’s shoe. Zeus hopped over slabs driving upward to the ragged peak. The structure was more solid than it appeared.

Kate was huffing. Her trail pants were damp and her long-sleeved shirt stuck to her chest. Her feet were broiling in her boots. Slung at her waist, two water bottles slapped bruises on her thigh. She smelled suntan lotion and body odour. Her lips were already dry. Zeus poked his nose into a crevice and inhaled. She watched his ears and tail. There was nothing here.

The rescue organization she got him from had named him Zeus. He was from a litter of eleven found duct-taped in a box and left in a dumpster. Three had died. He had a border-collie brain and physique but his coat had the curl and wave of a spaniel’s. He was all black. His sleek racing body and spindly legs culminated in powerful haunches and a plumed, ever-alert tail. A black dog in the afternoon sun. He was panting.

It had been her weekly routine to walk through the pens of quivering and yapping adoption candidates looking for some­thing extraordinary in their eyes. Zeus was the most inquisitive, fearless, and confident of the litter. As the staff recounted the pups’ brief, sad history, she had surreptitiously run her own tests. Tests that gauged fear, drive, aggression, intelligence, curiosity, frustration—all gently concealed in the guise of belly rubs, head pats, and her fingers dancing across the floor. Commands designed as play. When the other pups had tired of her, Zeus remained, wanting more. It had taken only three hand gestures to teach him to sit, before he offered the behaviour unasked.

That was five years ago. Together, they’d had four live finds and three cadavers. They were catching up to Riley and Annabelle’s record. Kate stumbled and grabbed for a jutting metal rod. A cold-hot sliced through her leather glove. Zeus’s head turned, but she kept moving forward.

Focus, she berated herself. Zeus trotted across a narrow plank, stopping at a fractured opening. His nostrils flared. He bowed and leaned into its space.


Kneeling, she shone her flashlight into the hollow, checking the ceiling and walls for stability, and gave the all-clear. He belly-crawled down the incline. She suppressed the urge to call him back to her safety. She had raised him to be tough physically and mentally, able to withstand gruelling conditions: heat, sound, and ever-varying stimuli. It was the handlers who were the most difficult to train. Choosing to trust their own meagre senses over their dog’s acuity, thus missing obvious communications because of emotion, fear, ego, and fatigue. In the field, these mistakes could cost a life.

She kept her flashlight trained on Zeus. Several mattresses and pallets were propped against the low, bunkered walls. He paused, considering the cross breezes. Honing in on a mattress in the corner, he bowed and barked his deepest voice. Loud. Strong. Certain. A hand emerged. Zeus’s backside swayed with joy. The mattress jostled aside, and seventeen-year-old Ben’s grinning, sweat-drenched face appeared. Riley’s son from his first mar­riage. He had his father’s eyes. Kate raised her fist.


Zeus bounded up the makeshift ramp and slammed against her chest. He pranced on her lap, his hot tongue licking her cheeks. She rewarded him with his favourite toy, a ball with a tether rope. She tugged and the ball squeaked, squeaked, squeaked. She wrapped her arms around his squirming body and held on longer than he needed.

“Good boy,” she said.

She pulled off her glove. Blood seeped from her palm and dripped down her fingers. She reached for his water bottle. Only then did she feel the pinch of pain.

In her pocket, her phone vibrated. She checked the number and wondered why the hospital was calling.

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Western Alienation Merit Badge, The

Western Alienation Merit Badge, The


Set in Calgary in 1982, during the recession that arrived on the heels of Canada's National Energy Program, The Western Alienation Merit Badge follows the Murray family as they struggle with grief and find themselves on the brink of financial ruin. After the death of her stepmother, Frances "Frankie" Murray returns to Calgary to help her father, Jimmy, and her sister, Bernadette, pay the mortgage on the family home. When Robyn, a long-lost friend, becomes their house guest old tensions are reign …

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Bad Ideas

Bad Ideas

A Novel
also available: Paperback Audiobook


Wildly funny and wonderfully moving, Bad Ideas is about just that — a string of bad ideas — and the absurdity of love

Trudy works nights in a linen factory, avoiding romance and sharing the care of her four-year-old niece with Trudy’s mother, Claire. Claire still pines for Trudy’s father, a St. Lawrence Seaway construction worker who left her twenty years ago. Claire believes in true love. Trudy does not. She’s keeping herself to herself. But when Jules Tremblay, aspiring daredevil, wa …

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Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club

also available: Paperback Audiobook Audiobook
tagged : literary

#1 National Bestseller
Finalist, CBC Canada Reads
Finalist, Scotiabank Giller Prize

By turns savage, biting, funny, poetic, and heartbreaking, Megan Gail Coles’s debut novel rips into the inner lives of a wicked cast of characters, exposing class, gender, and racial tensions over the course of one Valentine’s Day in the dead of a winter storm.

Valentine’s Day, the longest day of the year.

A fierce blizzard is threatening to tear a strip off the city, while inside The Hazel restaurant a storm …

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Olive waits below the sad mural painted in memory of some long ago drowned boy.

She can see up and down Duckworth Street from her perch though there’s not much to see this early in the morning. A scattered taxi slogs by carrying fiendish-looking passengers who attempt to discreetly smoke from barely cracked windows. Discretion is a skill they have fallen out with but they don’t know that yet. They still fancy themselves stealth, piling four parka-plied humans into a single toilet stall, scarves dangling beneath the door, telling tails on them all.

Volume control is a thing of delusion in the confined spaces they inhabit. It will be years before this is fully realized by those who escape the scene or are thrown into adulthood by overdose or pregnancy. These lucky few will feel overwhelmingly, retroactively embarrassed by their one-time rock star fantasies. Olive can hear them bawling about their supposed betrayals as clouds of tobacco smoke and slurry syllables updraft skyward through the slightly parted window.

But Olive forgives them their make-believe follies.

They are no better or worse than most of the half well-off, half grown-up humans she has met. They are just flawed and vulnerable to the pitch. Olive is no different. She has chased the white dragon into smoky rooms where grad students complained about unkindly thesis feedback while wearing thousand dollar watches. A holiday-tanned winter wrist, a baggie held aloft, another Volvo fob serving key bumps round the ring. Under such circumstances, Olive is for the most part silent. She can pass for one of them until she releases language into the world.

Olive often holds her rural tongue for fear of being found out. She is not a card-carrying member of the townie majority. And rarely are there other fugitive faces for Olive to hide behind on nights when she wants to get on the go. There was a Mexican painter once. A Russian musician. There was the one Pakistani fellow whose name Olive could never recall. She did not think it was unpronounceable, she just could not pronounce it.

There are lots of words still beyond her reach.

Like Olive can think of no words to describe the pain felt where her pants nearly meet her feet. She winces and tucks her chin farther inside her coat. She tries to push her neck back to save from catching skin in the zipper. She sniffs back hard and swallows a slippery lob. Her grandmother would not approve of hoarding mucus in the body but her grandmother would not approve of much of what she does lately. Olive sighs and swells and swallows spit to slide the lob along.

Ollie my dollie, get a tissue.

Her grandmother’s voice is always a program running in the back of her mind. But Olive can’t sacrifice a tissue on mere mucus this morning. Her store of napkins is running low and the last time she tried to hock and spit the wind gust blew snot back onto her sleeve. The line of mucus running from her lips to her elbow turned her weak stomach over. A middle-aged woman in a bright blue Canada Goose coat muttered oh for the love of god as she hurried past the translucent boundary. This made Olive feel gross.

She swallows that gross feeling down again while she waits.

She can distract herself for a time from the damp soak settling in her heels by watching the craven-faced respectable people meander to their grown-up jobs after a weekend of pretending to be twenty-five. They are not twenty-five. They are not even thirty-five and feel as such. Most internally promise to stay home with the kids next weekend as they turn their faces to or from the sunshine depending on the quantity of painkillers ingested in the car. This temporary commitment to sobriety is bookended by revolving party systems.

Some relish vitamin D while others resent it.

The division will not last long, though, as the sun already has started to duck back inside the nimbostratus. It will storm again today as surely as the nearly forty will go out again in four days’ time. The babysitter will be called. The cat will be let in. They will flee their houses for a little look around.

Get the stink of house off ya.

They will reliably cloak this smell of domestication in alcohol and nicotine and self-loathing until Monday. Mondays are for quitting everything. Again. Except when it storms on Monday. Then quitting everything is pushed to Tuesday.

Today is such a Tuesday.

The weekend warriors refuse to sell out and so have fully bought in pound for pound.

Olive is just the same. She too had been sold the notion of party drugs as lazy fun and then fast gobbled them hand over fist. Swallow, snort, smoke; ingestion is an irrelevant matter of personal preference and ease. There is no wall to wall them out. Or in. Drug trends are trendingalong regardless of national media reports daily updating all on their progress east and upward. Olive has watched the same scenes play out on repeat in dark corners of the late night since arriving in Sin Jawns.

And they’ve gone and stashed the kits everywhere to protect against the siren call. A first line of defence kept behind wine bars. Under the bathroom sink. In purses. And Olive knows she must address the long list of reasons why self-medicare is needed to comfort her.


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Lands and Forests

Lands and Forests

also available: eBook

Escaping government-sanctioned flooding, obsessing over camera-equipped drones, violently mourning a lost brother, discovering a new passion in fencing, watching a wildfire consume a whole town: the stories in Lands and Forests survey the emotional landscapes of women and men whose lives, though rooted deeply in the land and their small communities, are still rocked by great cultural change. These are raw, honest character studies reminiscent of the work of Alexander MacLeod and Lisa Moore, but …

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