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2019 Ottawa Book Awards Finalists

By 49thShelf
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From intense drama, humour and biography to riveting history, political commentary and elegant poetry, this year’s finalists for the 2019 Ottawa Book Awards and Prix du livre d’Ottawa have something for everyone. The awards recognize the top English and French books published in the past year by local authors. This year’s finalists include 17 prominent authors from Ottawa’s thriving literary community.
The High-Rise in Fort Fierce

The High-Rise in Fort Fierce


Finalist, Ottawa Book Award for Fiction 2019
Long-Shortlisted, 2019 Relit Award (Short Story Category)

Drugs. Violence. Racism. Despair. The tiny, northern town of Fort Fierce has issues in spades, and most of them fester in the high-rise by the lake.

In this visceral, emotionally raw, and completely absorbing collection, Carlucci takes his readers through the ravaged history of Franklin Place, from its construction during the Cold War to its demolition decades later. We meet the Franklins themsel …

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The Rising Tide

The Rising Tide


Rumours of the Second Coming of Christ abound in the City of Masks. Michele Archenti, publisher, former priest, and current confidant to the mysterious skeleton-bearer Rodolpho, finds himself swept away by a rising tide of politics, ambition and lust in eighteenth-century Venice.

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From "Strange Arrivals and Sightings"

Venice / September 1769

The grey door, runneled with cracks, creaked open onto one of the narrowest alleys in Venice, a calle barely wide enough to accommodate a folded-open folio, a slit of a passage where sunlight entered for a mere twenty minutes a day.

For nearly two years, Michele Archenti had been going in and out of the door that faced this narrow capillary of an alley. Today, he was exiting his print shop to join his friend, Arcangelo, for lunch on the nearby square. A wind, from the north he sensed by its freshness, spilled down the alley's throat.

As he closed the door and turned, setting his tricorne on his head, he paused in the alley, thinking about those two years since he had arrived in Venice. They had passed as quickly as a comet coursing through the heavens.

* * *

Arcangelo posed a question before Michele had time to insert himself in his chair. "My friend, have you heard the rumors flitting about the city? Like a flock of nervous starlings."

"Greetings, Arco. No. What do you hear?"

In his eagerness to impart his news, Arcangelo leaned forward and waved his arms about. "They say a wolf was spotted yesterday on the isle of Torcello. That in itself is unusual enough, but this wolf was seen running across a field dressed in a cleric's robes. A tattered priest's cassock fluttered across his back! Can you imagine?"

"Ah. Is that so?" Michele nodded.

"And this in the same week the new Inquisitor arrives from Rome to take up his duties."


"Yes. And what's more, there was a sighting, also on Torcello this week, of a strange man bearing a skeleton on his back. So many astonishing events all together. People are saying it's the Second Coming, Michele. These are signs."

"What? That's ridiculous."

"The rumors are rampant. They say Christ returns, his crucified bones still nailed to his own resurrected body to remind all Christians of His suffering and His sacrifice. Some are claiming that this is surely a warning of the end of times."

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This Book Betrays My Brother

This Book Betrays My Brother

also available: eBook

Winner of the Ottawa Book Award, English Fiction, 2019 Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2018 Named to the Globe 100, 2018 CBC Books, Top YA Pick for 2018 Named to Best Books for Kids and Teens, Fall 2018 Named to Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best Books, 2018

What does a teenage girl do when she sees her beloved older brother commit a horrific crime? Should she report to her parents, or should she keep quiet? Should she confront him? All her life, Naledi has been in awe of Basi, her …

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Building on River

Building on River


This narrative in verse builds on known facts to imagine the life of John Rudolphus Booth, who arrived in roughhouse Bytown in the early 1850s with a wife, a child, and carpenter’s tools bought on credit. In the growing new capital of Canada, he built a storied empire on the river power and forests of the Ottawa Valley. The poems speak in varied voices – of Booth himself, family members, business associates, employees, visiting royalty and tavern wags – collectively evoking the man, the pl …

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The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster

The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster

Public Betrayal, Justice Denied
also available: eBook

The July 6, 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster is a tragedy unparalleled in Canadian history. It resulted in major loss of life, massive environmental destruction and the evisceration of a small Quebec town. Blame landed squarely on the shoulders of three front-line employees of the Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic Railway Company. But a jury acquitted them.

Lac-Mégantic is the story of a rail industry writing its own rules, a booming US oil industry based on fracking, fighting any obstacles to selli …

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The Secret History of Soldiers

The Secret History of Soldiers

How Canadians Survived the Great War
also available: Hardcover

There have been thousands of books on the Great War, but most have focused on commanders, battles, strategy, and tactics. Less attention has been paid to the daily lives of the combatants, how they endured the unimaginable conditions of industrial warfare: the rain of shells, bullets, and chemical agents. In The Secret History of Soldiers, Tim Cook, Canada's foremost military historian, examines how those who survived trench warfare on the Western Front found entertainment, solace, relief, and d …

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In the soldiers’ songs, the patriotic discourse of the home front, with its exalted speech-making of one more push, was buried under a chorus of deliberately shocking satire, anti-conformity, relentless vulgarity, and merry-making. This was the grousing of everyday soldiers put to song. The cynicism expressed in the songs did not mean that the soldiers were willing to give up or embrace defeat. In fact, to sing about the army discipline, which in its extreme form was much hated, or about escaping the trenches, was a way of coping with the strain at the front and finding strength to go on. Chester Routley of the 18th Battalion was so taken with one untitled and impertinent song that he wrote it down from memory in his postwar memoirs:
They say we’re going over the ocean
They say we’re going over the sea,
They say that we’re going to Blighty,
But it all sounds like bull-shit to me.
Bull-shit, bull-shit, it all sounds
Like bull-shit to me, to me,
Bull-shit, bull shit, it sounds
Just like bull-shit to me.
These satirical send-ups also allowed for the trivialization of mud, lice, and sudden death. In the strange world of the trenches, where lives were ruled by fate or military discipline, one simply had to grin and bear it. This sentiment was expressed in many ways, but the soldiers’ song “Never Mind” (also known as “If the Sergeant Steals Your Rum”) captured it well:
If the sergeant drinks your rum, never mind
And your face may lose its smile, never mind
He’s entitled to a tot but not the bleeding lot
If the sergeant drinks your rum, never mind
When old Jerry shells your trench, never mind
And your face may lose its smile, never mind
Though the sandbags bust and fly you have only once to die,
If old Jerry shells the trench, never mind
If you get stuck on the wire, never mind 
And your face may lose its smile, never mind
Though you’re stuck there all the day, they count you dead and stop your pay
If you get stuck on the wire, never mind
Some troops added their own fun to the lyrics by mimicking officers or NCOs, either in speech or tone, to personalize the song for their comrades.
Though soldiers liked to take their superiors down a notch, reminding those in power that the rank and file were on to their tricks, they reserved a special vitriol for those at home who would not fight. The anonymous satirical attack on conscientious objectors, “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier,” was sung with vigour:
I don’t want to be a soldier, I won’t be compelled to fight:
I much prefer to stay in England than to battle for the right:
Others may be patriotic and answer King and Country’s call,
But my conscience won’t allow me—no, my conscience won’t
Allow me—or I’d sacrifice my all.
I don’t want to be a soldier,
I have nought worth fighting for;
If I had, my conscience tells me
It’s not right to go to war
I don’t want to be a soldier, I feel quite happy singing psalms,
Tho’ I’ve often heard the bugle sounding the call to arms:
I would rather be a shirker and sleep upon a feather bed,
Than to doss within a dug-out—a dirty, muddy dug-out—
And plaster Ticker’s jam upon my bread.
“It won’t be good to be a chap who stayed at home, when the boys return,” wrote one Canadian stretcher-bearer in a letter about those young men who did not serve. “This thing is just a bit too serious. We know what it is here.” Motivated by anger at the unfair burden shouldered by those at the front, many soldiers dreamed and sang lustily about postwar revenge against the slackers at home and their own abusive superiors. The moving “When This Lousy War Is Over,” which was sung to the tune of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” fantasized about postwar payback.
When this lousy war is over no more soldiering for me,
When I get my civvy clothes on, oh how happy I shall be.
No more church parades on Sunday, no more begging for a pass.
You can tell the sergeant-major to stick his passes up his arse.
When this lousy war is over no more soldiering for me,
When I get my civvy clothes on, oh how happy I shall be.
No more NCOs to curse me, no more rotten army stew.
You can tell the old cook-sergeant, to stick his stew right up his flue.
When this lousy war is over no more soldiering for me,
When I get my civvy clothes on, oh how happy I shall be.
No more sergeants bawling, “Pick it up” and “Put it down”
If I meet the ugly bastard I’ll kick his arse all over town.
Such feelings of anger and discontent could be aired safely in the songs, in a way that they could not be presented in private letters home, which were censored, or in direct talk with superiors, which could result in confrontations and punishment.
There were also multiple songs devoted to the popular subjects of booze and sex. “Here’s to the Good Old Beer” and “Drink It Down” were celebrations of alcohol, and even abstainers were known to join in to the chorus to be a part of the social activity. The songs of drink quenched a thirst of the spirit and facilitated male bonding. The rough culture of the soldiers was revealed more boldly, and bawdily, through sexual songs such as “My Nelly, Skibboo,” “I’m Charlotte, the Harlot,” “Oh, Florea’s [or Florrie’s] New Drawers,” and “Three German Officers.” The most famous dirty song of them all, “Mademoiselle from Armentières,” with its ever-changing and increasingly vulgar lines, is known to have at least 700 recorded versions. And this doesn’t include most of the unprintable ones, with the lyrics degenerating into incest and bestiality. “Certainly some of the verses we sang were pretty ripe,” said Ernest Black in his memoirs, with little more than a literary shrug.
The more blasphemous the song, the more it was sung with gusto, with some of the raunchiest songs being belted out on the march. Soldiers were not known as foot-sloggers for nothing, and it was not uncommon for them to march in their heavy hobnailed boots for kilometres behind the lines, carrying gear weighing more than sixty pounds. Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen, a Danish national who enlisted in the CEF and would later receive the Victoria Cross for fierce fighting at the Battle of Amiens, recounted the joy men took in shouting irreverent lyrics while on the march:
Again and again we go back to the good old Pack Up Your Troubles; or else we roar so that the whole countryside may hear: The Gang’s All Here! But the best of the lot is the everlasting and ever-varying song of Mademoiselle from Armentières:
Oh, madam, have you any good wine?
Parley voo,
Oh, madam, have you any good wine?
Parley voo,
Oh, madam, have you any good wine,
Fit for a soldier from the line?
Hinky dinky, parley voo.
It continued, “Oh, madam, have you a daughter fine? Yes, I have a daughter fine. Then …” Our imagination pictures the continuation of the song in lusty and vivid colouring, although in any case we have now turned our back on all such pleasures for some time to come.
Excerpted from The Secret History of Soldiers by Tim Cook. Copyright © 2018 by Tim Cook. Published by Allen Lane, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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All Things Consoled

All Things Consoled

A daughter's memoir
also available: Hardcover

From Elizabeth Hay, one of Canada's beloved novelists, comes a startling and beautiful memoir about the drama of her parents' end, and the longer drama of being their daughter. Winner of the 2018 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonficiton.

Jean and Gordon Hay were a colourful, formidable pair. Jean, a late-blooming artist with a marvellous sense of humour, was superlatively frugal; nothing got wasted, not even maggoty soup. Gordon was a proud and ambitious schoolteacher with a terrifying …

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     My mother came home the next day. The residence doctor dropped by in the afternoon, sturdy, energetic, reassuring. We had learned he was from Aberdeen, a fact that only endeared him further to my parents, for the Hays traced their origins back to the same part of Scotland. My mother greeted him cheerfully, and he said, “So you’ve come back.”
     She had. She had come back to us.
     Then once again, around the middle of March, she lost her words and twenty-four hours later showed no signs of recovering them. “I’m thinking—throne—thinking—th.” Starting on a word with an opening sound like “th,” she could not escape it, any more than a month earlier she had been able to escape “window—whether.”
     After I got her lying down, I went into the living room to talk to Dad, who was staring out one of the windows that overlooked the road and the canal beyond. Without turning, he said, “I don’t think she’s suffering, she’s just lost.” He choked up, as he did so very easily, before going on. “We just have to hope, or maybe hope is the wrong word. If she doesn’t make it, maybe it’s for the best.”
     The next day, “It’s snowing snowing snowing snowing,” she said, as we sat on a bench in the glowing sunshine.
     Certain words were no problem for her: yes, okay, right, super, thank you, well, son of a gun, really. Over the telephone, I told Sochi about the automatic responses that still issued loud and clear from her grandmother. Sochi laughed and remarked that they were all affirmatives; someone else’s might have been shit, goddammit and fuck. My mother’s “son of a gun” was as close as she came to an expletive and it was always said with good humour.
     Then the next morning, when I walked out of the late-winter sunshine into their living room, exclaiming what a beautiful day it was, my mother stopped me in my tracks by replying from the chesterfield, “Yes, it is a beautiful day.”
     Lazarus was back from the land of the mute. Open in her lap was the book I had brought to them several days before about Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition, and now she said how interesting she thought it was. Sitting beside her, washed over by relief and excitement, I flipped to the page with the photograph of ice flowers, delicate white rosettes blanketing the surface of newly frozen sea water on February 16th, 1915—four years before she and my father were born. I told her about seeing them in patches on the canal last winter and on a pond at the arboretum. And we made conversation. “Your words have come back!” She nodded and smiled and talked, and everything she said made sense.
     But Dad was less excited by her recovery than he was upset with her for having wet the bed. “And who is going to wash the sheets?” he wanted to know. I asked him what happened to the diaper I had helped her into before leaving the night before. Well, in getting her into her nightgown, he had taken it off. Then immediately on the offensive again, he lit into me about her bone-strengthening medication. Had she had it or not?
     “A nurse is supposed to give it to her early Sunday morning,” I said, “which is today.”
     “You haven’t answered my question!” he thundered, only to back off a heartbeat later. “All right,” he admitted. “Somebody came in and gave it to her.” Only to blast me again, “But then she fell asleep! She’s not supposed to fall asleep after she gets it!”
     He took things hard and he made them harder. There would come a day when he declared that the nursing care in this place wasn’t “worth coon shit.”
     I liked “coon shit.” Never in a million years would I have imagined those words coming out of his mouth. We went down for coffee, and then Mom and I went outside into the open air and abundant sunshine while he remained behind in the library reading Maclean’s.
     In the flooding light we walked to the corner. “Did you have wrens nesting in the garden in London last spring?” I asked her.
     “I am forced to confess that I do not remember,” she said, speaking in her old formal way. Her teachers at Renfrew Collegiate had been sticklers for grammar and well-formed sentences, and my mother had been an excellent student.
     “What was it like for you, the last couple of days, when you couldn’t find your words?”
     “It was unsettling. But it’s been unsettling for a while.”
     We walked on. I asked her what she was thinking about.
     “I’m thinking about what the future holds.”
     “Are you worried about that?”
     She said something vague about no one knowing what the future holds, or perhaps I said that.
     I had pulled from the wastebasket in their rooms another of her efforts at a letter, one she had been working on somedays before, wanting it, she said, to be “a reasonable letter from a reasonable person.” She intended to have it do yeoman’s service for all of the friends she hadn’t yet written to.

There must be a way in the English Landwich to say to
your English speaking friends a great deal more emphatic?
I’ve tried many ways but the best I’ve managed is

Thank you so very much from all of us
The Hays

     Around this time, I remember her taking several bananas—the three on the counter and the one from inside their little fridge—and lining them up on the seat of her walker, then pushing her walker into the living room. I didn’t follow for a moment, washing dishes in their kitchenette. Then when I went into the living room, the bananas were nowhere in sight. “Where are they, Mom? Dad, did you see what Mom did with the bananas?”
     “Sure I did.”
     “Where are they?” Looking around.
     “Well, just don’t sit on the chesterfield,” he said.
     I checked under the cushions and there they were: fourbananas lined up in a row.

They reminded me of characters out of Beckett. A pair of solitaries who had always headed out to the studio, in my mother’s case, or downstairs to his study, in my father’s (each to his own lair) were now sharing two rooms. They were like the aged parents trapped in dustbins in Endgame. Like Laurel and Hardy in another fine mess. Or like old Joshua Smallweed in Bleak House throwing cushions at his imbecile wife.
     “Oh the weather,” my mother said to me, “the weather now is the pits of wet roses.” She had been reading in the newspaper, she said, about a woman in her thirties “who came down under the overburden of blankets and probably isn’t going to live.”
     Her turns of phrase rather confirmed my view that poetry issues from the holes in our head, that whatever faculty produces the startling contractions and coinages and leaps in logic that we call poetry is also available on an unconscious and uncontrollable level to someone suffering dementia. One morning on the telephone, ever solicitous about my sleep, she asked, “How did you severe the night?” Blending the words “fare,” “survive” and “persevere” so deftly that a lifetime of labour in the sleep mines got summoned up and summed up. “Dad’s behind a shave,” she added, “but I think he’ll come to the phone.”
     Later, when I went over to see them, “Do you know what I had for breakfast?” she said to me.
     She leaned forward. “Too much.”
     But that was her sense of humour. Like her abundant hair, it was her lasting glory.

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