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2021 Summer Reading List: Part I
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2021 Summer Reading List: Part I

By 49thShelf
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There's something for every kind of reader on this list—fun fiction, speculative adventures, gripping mysteries, family drama, short fiction, and more. And even better? We're just getting your summer reading started! Stay tuned for the 49th Shelf Summer Books List: Part 2, coming to you at the end of July with ten more picks and another fantastic round of giveaways.
Home of the Floating Lily

Home of the Floating Lily

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

Caught between cultures, immigrant families from a Bengali neighbourhood in Toronto strive to navigate their home, relationships, and happiness.

Set in both Canada and Bangladesh, the eight stories in Home of the Floating Lily follow the lives of everyday people as they navigate the complexities of migration, displacement, love, friendship, and familial conflict. A young woman moves to Toronto after getting married but soon discovers her husband is not who she believes him to be. A mother reconc …

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Excerpt

A GOOD FAMILY

She was a divorcee. After her husband left her for an old flame, Rubina became a hot topic of discussion for people in the building. She was beautiful, pulling off leggings and kameezes as elegantly as she sported her jamdani saris, making her look, at the age of fifty, like a thirty-year-old. Some speculated it was her overly friendly nature that destroyed her marriage. Perhaps she was a little too generous with men, they said. Others wondered why she couldn’t tie her husband down with her good looks.

Shumi would overhear these comments by her neighbours while she washed her clothes in the common laundry room on the first floor, before she got her own personal washing machine. Sometimes, they’d stop as soon as she walked in. Other times, they would continue, not realizing she could hear them. They used all kinds of adjectives for Rubina’s family — they said that it was a broken home, a disturbed family, that she should have worked harder on her marriage for the sake of her daughter.

Shumi had told Asif only once, in passing, that some women from the building washed less and gossiped more in the laundry room. So, with the landlord’s permission, he’d immediately bought a portable washing machine for her and had it delivered all the way up to their eighth-floor apartment early one morning. She was relieved, of course, to be able to do her laundry in privacy, away from the congregational discussions of Bengalis about other Bengalis. But it was Asif who’d seemed thrilled as he cut open the box and flipped through the manual. “There you go! Now you don’t have to worry about being around those petty people.” It was the first time her husband had expressed his distaste for their neighbours. On most occasions, he spoke too little for her to be certain of what he disliked and what it was that excited him.

So, this morning, when he phoned from the office and said he’d like to have biryani for dinner, Shumi wasted no time. Within half an hour, rice was washed, spices were ground up, meat was marinated, and by noon her stovetop was hot and crowded with various pots and pans — bubbling chicken curry, rice boiling in cinnamon water, and onions browning and burning in a pool of oil.

Outside, sunrays were tearing through the clouds after a morning downpour. Finally, blue was bleeding back into the sky, exposing the Toronto skyline from beneath a film of darkness. Shumi ran to the washroom, pulled out her laundry, and carried the pile to the balcony. A chilly autumn wind blew toward her. One by one, she hung the jeans and T-shirts, saris and salwars on the laundry wire, struggling to secure them with clips as they flapped rebelliously. She was in no mood to battle. The kitchen needed her attention, and in no time she would have to come back out to check if the clothes had dried — her routine excuse to watch Asif ’s white Honda pull into the parking lot. Again and again, she thought about his phone call, feeling the butterflies each time. “Can you make biryani tonight?” he’d asked. “I want to celebrate. I have a surprise for you.” Surprises from her husband were also rare.

She stepped back inside, keeping the balcony door open. Turning off the flame, she assembled the rice and chicken, finishing with a sprinkle of fried onions and a prayer. “Please, Allah, let it be perfect.” The biryani was ready to go into the oven for the final bake. Cooking still made her nervous, a skill she was never asked to acquire when she was an unmarried woman in Dhaka. How foreign those times seemed now, when life was all about studies and badminton games and shopping sprees with girlfriends. Not that Asif ever complained. She could feed him the blandest food and he’d eat it without any fuss. She was lucky that way. But a request brought more pressure.

Only Rubina could help her now. It was her recipe, after all. Rubina ran a home catering business from her apartment on the sixth floor, supplying food for birthdays and dinner parties for Bengalis all over Toronto. This woman had a recipe for everything, a quick fix for every occasion.

Shumi reached for her phone and dialed.

“How’s it going?” Rubina said.

“It’s ready to go in,” she replied. “But I feel like something’s missing.”

“Want me to come up?”

“Sure, that’d be great. If you’re not too busy.”

* * *

“Oh, it smells great!” Rubina announced as she paraded into Shumi’s kitchen.

Shumi handed her a teaspoon. Rubina dug into the mixture, picked up a few grains, and began to chew. “Everything’s perfect. Salt, spice, everything.”

“Something isn’t right,” Shumi said. “What if Asif doesn’t like it?”

“Just wait till it comes out of the oven. It will be just fine!”

That was all she needed to hear.

The way Rubina said, “It will be just fine!” — animated, bright-eyed, smiling — instantly put her at ease. Shumi remembered the day they first met, a few days after she’d arrived in Canada as Asif ’s sponsored, immigrant wife. They were in the elevator, pressed against the wall behind a crowd of sweaty men and women. That exact same smile. Warm and welcoming. Like a gush of cool air through an open window. What would she do if Rubina hadn’t started the conversation that day, if she hadn’t asked her name and how long she’d been in Toronto and what her apartment number was? Who would she talk to, or visit for a cup of tea on lonely afternoons, if Rubina hadn’t shared her phone number? To find a parent figure in a foreign country, one had to be fortunate.

Rubina pushed the pot of biryani into the oven.

“Okay, darling. Must go now,” she said, hurrying toward the door. “Lots of work to do.”

“Aunty, why don’t you join us for dinner?” Shumi asked.

“Oh, my! No way. Two big orders today. You know how it is. Aaliyah’s not here to help me.”

Shumi looked at her as her smile faded. Rubina never accepted invitations. About two years ago, when her daughter, Aaliyah, took up a new job as a mechanical engineer and moved to Calgary, Rubina’s workload doubled. Aaliyah was a fantastic cook, too, Shumi’d heard, and helped her mother with her business while she was in Toronto. With Aaliyah gone, Rubina worked around the clock on weekdays and weekends alike. Nowadays, she was preoccupied with finding a husband for Aaliyah.

“Have you found someone for Aaliyah yet?” Shumi asked.

“Nope, no luck. There are barely any proposals.”

Shumi took her hand and placed it between her palms, pressing it tightly.

“I’m sure you will find someone soon, Aunty,” she said. “You mustn’t worry so much.”

“I cannot help it, Shumi. It’s how we mothers are. We worry for our children’s future as soon as they start breathing inside our wombs.” She paused and let out a sigh. “Especially me. I have a lot to worry about. You know how it is. Our family’s not the most popular.”

“But it’s not your fault,” Shumi said.

“It doesn’t matter, believe me.”

Shumi felt sorry for her. With so much grief, so many responsibilities to carry, of course she’d be least bothered about invitations. Asif had said the same thing, when she told him about all the lunch and dinner offers Rubina had declined. “Let it be, Shumi. One needs to be happy to enjoy such things.” Though Rubina always welcomed Shumi into her own home, it was Shumi who would leave after a short time, seeing how busy she was. Whenever she visited, after a quick cup of tea, Rubina would begin attending to the large aluminum pots that always occupied her kitchen and living room floor, checking the taste of the many curries she made in bulk, transferring them one by one into trays and containers of all sizes.

Standing by the main door, Rubina scanned Shumi’s living room as she put on her slippers.

“Oh, you have put on the cushion covers from Aarong!” she said, looking at Shumi’s couch.

She’d teased her once, Shumi remembered, for bringing cushion covers and coasters and bedsheets all the way from the popular handicraft store in Dhaka. She didn’t think it would go well with the Ikea furniture Asif had bought.

“It looks beautiful, actually. What did Asif say?”

“He didn’t really say anything,” Shumi answered.

“You’re very talented, Shumi. You really know how to bring harmony to a place. Asif is a lucky man.”

She’d never thought of it that way. Back in Dhaka, they all spoke about her good fortune. How many girls were lucky enough to find a handsome, well-educated, and decent suitor from Canada? After Rubina left, Shumi pondered her words as she sank into the couch and observed all her little touches in the living room — embroidered rugs framed on the wall, miniature rickshaws and boats from Aarong on the bookshelf. They actually looked nice. She picked up her telephone receiver, dialed her own home phone number, and let it ring until Asif ’s voice message popped up. Crisp. Clear. Each word reaching her ear as though it wasn’t a recording, as if he was sitting right next to her, stating he was unavailable, promising he would get back in touch as soon as possible. She listened to it over and over again. His Canadian accent, the way his r’s and t’s and l’s rolled off his tongue, made her heart flutter. Normally it embarrassed her, reminding her of her own flawed English. Not that her English was poor. In Dhaka, she had friends who went to English-medium schools, and she watched American TV shows and read English books here and there. But her grammar could use improvement, her vocabulary needed a boost, and her accent — it was nowhere near Asif ’s. At the end of the day, she had a bachelor’s degree in history. She’d studied in Bangla-medium all her life. He was an IT graduate of Ryerson University, a Canadian man. But none of it seemed so bad at that moment. It felt just fine.

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Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead

A Novel
edition:Paperback

This hilarious and profound debut for fans of Mostly Dead Things and Goodbye, Vitamin, follows a morbidly anxious young woman—“the kindhearted heroine we all need right now” (Courtney Maum, New York Times bestselling author)—who stumbles into a job as a receptionist at a Catholic church and becomes obsessed with her predecessor’s mysterious death.

Gilda, a twenty-something, atheist, animal-loving lesbian, cannot stop ruminating about death. Desperate for relief from her panicky mind an …

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The Quiet is Loud

The Quiet is Loud

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

The perfect marriage of literary and speculative fiction for readers of Kazuo Ishiguro and NK Jemisin.

When Freya Tanangco was ten, she dreamed of her mother's death right before it happened. That’s when she realized she was a veker, someone with enhanced mental abilities and who is scorned as a result. Freya's adult life has been spent in hiding: from the troubled literary legacy created by her author father, and from the scrutiny of a society in which vekers often meet with violence.

When her …

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Instamom

Instamom

A Novel
edition:Paperback

In this #funny, #wise, #emotionally compelling look at modern love and finding your true path, a proudly kid-free influencer meets the ultimate #dealbreaker . . .

It's the influencer's golden rule: know your niche. Kit Kidding has found hers on Instagram, where she gets paid to promote brands and share expertly curated posts about her fun, fabulous, child-free life. Kit likes kids just fine, but she passionately believes that women who choose not to become mothers shouldn't have to face guilt. O …

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Excerpt

I finish the chapter of the book I'm reading, then reluctantly bring myself back to reality. Getting up from the bench where I'm sitting, soaking up the last drops of spring sunshine before the sun sets, I slip the book into my purse and start walking toward the nearby hotel.

Come on, Kit. Let's do this. One more event to go and that'll make twenty influencer events this week—possibly an all-time record, but everyone knows spring is a busy time for openings, launches, collaborations. And the invitation for the Beachdazer event promises I'll have a "beachy good time." Right now, my idea of a good time is going home, kicking off the world's most uncomfortable heels I reserve solely for these events, changing into my favorite pj's, pouring myself a large glass of wine and finishing off this novel. But it's fine. It's Friday (#Friyay!), and while these launches don't pay, they pay off in campaigns. All I'm expected to do is smile, laugh, drink a cocktail, snap a bunch of photos and share them with my followers. It's not exactly comparable to having an open-heart surgery to perform before calling it a week, I remind myself.

My phone buzzes.

Where r u?
Feloise, my agent. Likely seeing other influencers posting to their social channels, and worried I'm skipping the event.

I snap an upwards shot of Hotel 6ix, the hot fifty-story hotel-slash-residences that shot up at the waterfront seemingly overnight, and send it to her, resisting the urge to roll my eyes because sure, Feloise has been riding me a bit lately, but she's just doing her job, and it's the reason she's so sought-after. Plus, I chose this career, this life. I have no one to blame but myself. And so I Superwoman pose in my white T-shirt, black cigarette pants and silver heels and tell myself that I've got this. Head held high, smile plastered on, I push through the massive glass double doors, flipping my shoulder-length brown hair over my shoulder.

Inside Hotel 6ix, the lobby is a cavernous space of darkwood, cold metal and shiny tile. Off to the left is the row of junior publicists, lined up in order of ascending height like neat Russian dolls, clipboards in hand, bleached teeth gleaming, hair in beachy waves. They're dressed head-to-toe in beach-inspired outfits: white sundresses, sunglasses on their heads, beach bags hooked into the crooks of their arms.

"Hi, Kit!" one of the publicists says to me in her singsongvoice. "You made it!" I rack my brain for her name, then remember it's Emaline as she checks me off her list. Emaline leads me to the mirrored bank of elevators and we ride up to the fortieth floor, filling the air with small talk until the elevator doors open into a massive room that feels spacious and airy, with floor-to-ceiling windows that give a near?360-degree view of the Toronto skyline: the CN Tower, the OVO Centre where the Raptors practice basketball and the islands, which are a favorite escape for everyone but me on hot summer days. I've been in this room for three other events already but I still love this view of the city. But back to the event space: it's been completely transformed into a beachside resort and even though I've seen a million space makeovers, I'm impressed: several windows have overlays so you can stand in front of them and look like you're on the beach in Bali, Thailand, Australia; the floor is covered in a light layer of sand, and lounge chairs, beach umbrellas and beach balls are scattered throughout.

"You can pick out your beach bag here," Emaline says, leading me over to a lineup of straw baskets with tassels, striped canvas totes, bright bags with neon handles. The bags are all adorned with inspirational puns such as Shell Yeah! and Seas the Day! I choose one—an outfit-matching black-and-white striped tote that says Avoid Pier Pressure and peek inside to see that it's filled with beach essentials—flip-flops, a beach towel, sunglasses, a sunhat, and the pièce de résistance, the Beachdazer curling iron. It's generous, for sure, and my twenty-year-old self would've ridden this freebie high for days, but sometimes, it's hard not to think about how, if I really needed a new curling iron (or beach towel or sunglasses, for that matter), I could easily buy the item in less time than I'll be spending at this event. And the towel wouldn't have the Beachdazer imprint on it.

"Aren't the cabanas amazing?" Emaline waves an arm to the far wall where half a dozen brightly colored fronts of cabanas have been created. They're not real—you can't go in them, they're just for show. For the 'gram. To give influencers the ability to choose the appropriate backdrop to fit their Instagram grid. But they look real. And if those don't work, there's an entire whitewashed wall near one of the huge windows letting in natural light—ideal for those who can't afford to have their own lights, tripods or photographers in tow. Or can't be bothered. "If you need to change, there are washrooms by the elevators. Once you're ready, you can head over to one of the hair stations to get your hair 'Beachdazed'"—she shoves her clipboard under her arm so she can air-quote—"and then help yourself to food and drink, have a great time and take lots of pictures, obviously. I can’t wait to see your final look!" She claps excitedly, then hands me a square pink card. "Here are the event hashtags, so you don't forget." I look down at the card: #lifesabeachdazer #rideabeachdazer #beachhairdontcare.

Emaline excuses herself and starts her spiel from the top with a woman who's just entered the room behind me, a large black bag slung over her shoulder, a photographer—in his early twenties, thin, stylish—trailing behind her. Possibly a photography grad, though probably her boyfriend. Potentially both.

I scan the room, debating whether to prioritize beachy waves or a bourbon on the rocks, and take in the usual influencers. @NoNoJoJo is standing on the "beach" with a beach ball. Her whole schtick is that she doesn't use any filters or editing—she does, however, have a professional photographer, and at this moment, a whole slew of lighting accessories. Her photographer snaps away while she tosses a beach ball, laughs and catches it. Toss, laugh, catch. Toss, laugh, catch. When she's satisfied, she moves on to one of the beach chairs, pops on a pair of sunglasses and picks up her pink cocktail, twirling the drink umbrella in one hand, pretending to sip the drink through the striped paper straw. Meanwhile, @PugMama is trying to coerce her pug into sitting pretty on one of those massive blow-up flamingos that's on top of a blue floor that's supposed to look like water. The pug is not interested and @PugMama looks stressed. I root around in my oversized Balenciaga bag, remembering that earlier today I was at the opening for a pet café and spa in Yorkville, and we got a gift bag. Sure enough, there's a dog treat. I make my way over to @PugMama and hand her the nail polish'shaped dog treat. She looks at it, then at me, then throws her arms around me dramatically and showers me with thanks before getting back to her shoot.

That's exactly how these events go. There are rarely any boring speeches, or presentations about how a product works anymore—that aspect of events died out about five years ago. That info will all arrive in our inboxes after the event, along with the next steps in our contract how to post about actually using the curling iron. For now, all the brand cares about are the photos we take: that the tens of thousands of dollars they've spent on making this event look picture-perfect will result in perfect pictures on our grids—making our followers jealous that they didn't spend their Friday night in the same way, and convincing them that getting a Beachdazer iron will make their lives better.

And so, we eat pretty food, drink sugary cocktails, chat toother influencers and make sure we get the best photo possible.

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Light on a Part of the Field

Light on a Part of the Field

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

In his evocative debut novel, Light on a Part of the Field, Kevin Holowack introduces us to a family grappling with artistic ambition, mental illness, and rifts that may not be possible to mend. Set in B.C. and Alberta in the 1960s and 1970s, this is a novel of finely observed vignettes offering a refracted look at art and family in the modern West.

A young artist, Ruth, and her obsessive husband are struck by lightning, an experience that throws their lives into a universe of intense beauty and …

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Sufferance

Sufferance

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover

Jeremiah Camp, a.k.a. the Forecaster, can look into the heart of humanity and see the patterns that create opportunities and profits for the rich and powerful. Problem is, Camp has looked one too many times, has seen what he hadn’t expected to see and has come away from the abyss with no hope for himself or for the future.

So Jeremiah does what any intelligent, sensitive person would do. He runs away. Goes into hiding in a small town, at an old residential school on an even smaller Indian rese …

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Unlocking

Unlocking

edition:Paperback

Louise Till, mother of two, has inherited her father's hardware store after her parents' unexpected deaths. She begins to cut copies of her customers' keys for herself, each one a talisman against grief and the terrible guilt she feels at not having realized that her parents were desperately unhappy.

Louise could use the keys, but she doesn't. Not until her life is overturned, again, when her marriage falls apart. Lou gives in to temptation, letting herself into Euphemia Rosenbaum's home. What fo …

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Every City Is Every Other City

Every City Is Every Other City

A Gordon Stewart Mystery
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook

 

Behind the scenes, nothing is what it seems.

Gord Stewart, 40 years old, single, moved back into his sub­urban childhood home to care for his widowed father. But his father no longer needs care and Gord is stuck in limbo. He’s been working in the movie business as a location scout for years, and when there isn’t much filming, as a private eye for a security company run by ex-cops, OBC. When a fellow crew member asks him to find her missing uncle, Gord reluctantly takes the job. The police s …

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Excerpt

 

Driving back to the movie set I figured with the information Teddy would give me – which would be nothing – and a couple of talks with cops in Sudbury and maybe a couple of interviews with friends of Kevin Mercer it might be enough to be an investigation and then Barb Mercer could put it to rest and move on.

As soon as I thought that I caught myself. Lana was right, of course, there wouldn’t be any closure or any real moving on, Barb would live the rest of her days in the same way whether she believed her husband killed himself or that he just left.

Or maybe not, maybe if I tried hard enough I could convince myself that the rest of Barb’s life would be different if she knew one way or the other, it would be better somehow.

Why not, as a location scout I spend my life finding things that people believe are something else; a bar in Toronto is in New York, the front of a house propped up on an empty lot in Oshawa is a haunted house in Maine in 1955, half of downtown is the Suicide Squad’s Midway City.

As I was pulling into a spot on a side street we were using for crew parking my phone rang. It was Teddy.

He said, “I’ve got a question.”

“What is it?”

“Where was the last place this guy was seen?”

“I’m not sure, he drove up to about a hundred clicks north of Sudbury and walked into the woods.”

“That’s where they found his truck?”

“Right.”

“But when was the last time someone identified him?”

I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant. “His wife saw him on the morning of the 8th and the police found his truck on the side of the road two days later.”

“And his credit card was used on the road, he stopped for gas and lunch on the way, right?”

“You’ve got the statements,” I said.

“Yeah, I was just wondering,” Teddy said, “the last time he used the card was at a gas station in Sudbury?”

“If you say so.”

“Then he drove about a hundred kilometers north, it’s just woods up there, it’s not even a highway it’s an old mining road.”

I said, “That’s right.”

“And he stopped in the middle of nowhere and walked into the woods, that’s the theory?”

“Yeah, that’s it. It all fits,” I said, feeling bad again, realizing that Barb would never get anything more because she already had everything and just didn’t want to believe it.

“He also used the card at an Esso station about a hundred clicks south of Sudbury, spent a hundred and eighty bucks.”

“Sounds like he filled it up,” I said.

“That’s what I thought,” Teddy said. “I imagine that’s what the cops thought, too. How far could he get with a full tank?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “five or six hundred kilometers.”

“So two or three times as far as he drove?”

“That’s right.”

And then Teddy said, “And he spent a hundred and ninety at a station in Parry Sound. So tell me, why do you think he spent another hundred and seventy-five dollars at a gas station in Sudbury?”

“I don’t know, he just wanted to be sure,” I said.

Teddy said, “That sound likely to you?”

And I had to admit, it did not.

 

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