Category Archives: Contemporary Fiction

To See Out the Night by David Clerson

"Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men." — H. P. Lovecraft

That quote by the master of “weird fiction” nicely summarizes the contents of QC Fiction’s latest release, To See Out the Night by David Clerson, which was translated by Katia Grubisic. The twelve short stories by Mr. Clerson live in the dream world, as do many of his characters. If you read his previous QC Fiction release, Brothers, then you’ll know what I mean (“He woke ready to paint the world the shade of nightmares.”). For as in a dream (or nightmare) where anything can happen to familiar places, persons and situations, the same can be said of the writings of Mr. Clerson. Perhaps Mr. Clerson has found the secret to capturing dreams he has had. I know I wish I could do the same. I am always amazed at the detail in my dreams, not so much the people and events, but the fantastical, yet familiar settings that occur almost nightly, some more vivid than others.

The common denominator in these stories is death, decomposition, life arising out of death (think mushrooms) and even a tumour that lives on after being cut out from a man’s body. H.P. Lovecraft, who loved to dream, would have enjoyed these stories, I’m sure.

While I certainly liked all of the stories here, one of my favourite ones is “City Within” in which the narrator, after finishing his night shift, wanders the unreal world of Montreal’s underground city. It is composed of numerous subbasements, parallel corridors, trapdoors, and staircases that are few and unreliable to use to access other floors.

Staircases are pretty rare. I know there are some that span several floors, though it's impossible to actually access any of them, until a door might open five or six landings down. Obviously exploring floors that appear at first to be com pletely cloistered becomes a fixation. 
Over the course of several visits, I finally found a way to get to every floor except the third, which is still impenetrable: I couldn't find a door or a trapdoor to get in. When I climb up a staircase that crosses the third floor, and I bang against the wall, I can hear an echo behind it, though whether it's accessible or whether there is only an enclosed, unreachable space, I don't know. 
The fourth subbasement has particularly low ceilings. You have to get around on your hands and knees, sometimes even crawling. The rooms there, on the other hand, are vast, wide expanses through which I inch along, dragging myself across the floor with my elbows or on my stomach. In the sixth subbasement, the ceilings are surprisingly high-you'd have to be three times my height to touch them...

Upon exiting this underground maze, the narrator finds it is almost daylight, thus he has spent most of the night exploring. He then goes home, only to dream he is back in the underground world, but there is someone else there, a mysterious woman named Camille. He then goes to work tired from lack of sleep and arrives at the only solution: live and sleep down there permanently. This reminds us of those dreams we don’t wish to awake from, or if we do, we desire to get back to sleep to continue the adventure if possible (which it usually isn’t).

If you are looking for something a little different in a short story format, look no further than David Clerson’s To See Out the Night. Who knows, perhaps your dreams will be influenced by one of these weird dream stories.

About the Author

David Clerson was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 1978 and lives in Montreal. His first novel, Brothers, also translated by Katia Grubisic for QC Fiction, was a finalist for the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Translation and a National Post Book of the Year.

Katia Grubisic is a writer, editor, and translator. She has been a finalist for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and her collection of poems What if red ran out won the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book. She has published translations of works by Marie-Claire Blais, Martine Delvaux, and Stéphane Martelly. Her translation of David Clerson’s first novel, Brothers, was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award for translation.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ QC Fiction; 1st edition (Sept. 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 150 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771862688
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771862684

This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

One Who Has Been Here Before by Becca Babcock

Set on the south shore of Nova Scotia, just outside of Halifax, One Who Was Has Been Here Before by Becca Babcock is a seasonally appropriate read: mysterious, vaguely spooky, and full of emotionally complex situations. It’s very reminiscent of Gothic literature, with a strong contemporary and a very pleasing Maritime twist (for those of us who are Maritimers and devoted to reading literature set in the region).

Emma is a mature grad student at the University of Alberta, starting work on her historical auto-ethnography involving the infamous Gaugin family, who lived on a compound in rural Nova Scotia. They kept to themselves, and ultimately, the adults were all arrested for a whole host of crimes, including neglect, child abuse, incest, and sexual assault. The children were taken from their parents and put into foster care, or other situations under the care of the province. Early on in Emma’s exploration of the abandoned Gaugin compound, we learn that she was one of those children – and this journey to work on her thesis was also a journey to answer her questions about her birth family and where she came from.

“To me, the most beautifully written parts were about Emma’s mental health and the parsing of her trauma.”

Babcock was inspired by the real-life infamous Goler clan, who were very similar to the Gaugins of her novel, and alluded to in the text: Emma mentions that the raid of the Gaugin compound was inspired by crackdowns on similar families. But those looking for a lurid retelling of the life on one of those compounds will be disappointed. Babcock instead focuses on Emma’s exploration of her past and her tentative connections with those who populated it.

There are a number of “twists” in this novel; Babcock doesn’t give away much at the beginning, though as we get to know Emma and her topic area, the twists are very easy to spot and guess. To me, the most beautifully written parts were about Emma’s mental health and the parsing of her trauma. Babcock writes these with such tenderness and a keen understanding of the pain of anxiety and depression.

Overall, while this was a novel that was easy to figure out before all the pieces had been revealed, it was compelling and sensitive. I was drawn into Emma’s journey of study and self-exploration, and even enjoyed a giggle at the fictional University of Nova Scotia, a clear stand-in for Dalhousie University, down to a description of the library that matches the Killam Memorial Library. And while the novel was not particularly spooky, story-wise, Babcock created a brilliantly dark, strange, and foreboding atmosphere throughout. An excellent fall read!


Rebecca Babcock is an award-winning writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Alberta and a PhD from Dalhousie University. She often worries about being asked for medical help and having to explain she’s not that kind of doctor. She has previously published a short story collection, Every Second Weekend, and her fiction has appeared in literary magazines in Canada and abroad. One Who Has Been Here Before is her first novel.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Vagrant Press (April 12 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 280 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771089296
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771089296

How to Murder a Marriage by Gabrielle St. George

If you are looking for a light read, you will enjoy How to Murder a Marriage by Gabrielle St. George. It was a fun mystery novel that is perfect for readers who are not fans of hardcore mystery novels. This was the first book of mine that my son picked up and was excited to read and discuss with me. This made the reading experience special.

How to Murder a Marriage follows main character Gina Malone; Gina is a smart and sassy bestselling relationships advice author and expert on exes. She is an empty nester trying to live life on her own terms but meddles in other people’s affairs for a living.

As a relationship advice expert, Gina advises one of her readers to leave her husband. The reader goes missing shortly after communicating with Gina. Gina then realizes she has a stalker. The issue is that Gina’s job creates a lot of enemies. The stalker could be Gina’s vengeful ex-husband, the abusive ex of the missing woman, or her new crush’s crazy ex.

The setting of this story is a tiny tourist town on the Canadian shores of Lake Huron where Gina plans to renovate an old family cottage. The cottage is located on a lonely and empty stretch of beach which worked well in this story and made for some scary scenes and close encounters with Gina’s stalker. I loved the display of small-town Ontario living, showcasing both the good and the bad that comes with that.

I enjoyed the Author’s writing style and her portrayal of the main character Gina. I found Gina to be witty, sarcastic and possessed my brand of humour. This made her very likeable and relatable. There was a great cast of secondary characters supporting Gina as she tries to find where home is while dealing with the craziness that is currently her life.

“Maybe you can never go home again because everything in life is always changing, and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe being home is about being at peace with whatever life throws at you, from wherever you are…Maybe I am my home”

I was kept engaged to the end, it was difficult to figure out how the story would evolve and end. I was completely surprised by the ending, which to me is a good thing with a mystery novel. I was left wondering what’s next which is great for a series. How to Murder a Marriage is the first in a series and I am looking forward to the others.

Thanks to Gabrielle St. George for an Advanced Reader Copy of this book.


Gabrielle St. George is a Canadian screenwriter and story-editor with credits on over 100 produced television shows, both in the USA and Canada. Her feature film scripts have been optioned in Hollywood. She is a member of the Writer’s Guild of Canada, Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. Ms. St. George writes humorous mysteries and domestic noir about subjects of which she is an expert-mostly failed relationships, hence her debut soft-boiled series, The Ex-Whisperer Files, which launches with HOW TO MURDER A MARRIAGE. She is also the author of the non-fiction GAL GUIDE SERIES: How to Say So Long to Mr. Wrong, How to Know if He’s Having an Affair, and How to Survive the Love You Hate to Love. Gabrielle lives a wildly magical life on a fairy-tale farm along the Saugeen River and spends weekends at her 1930s cabin on the shores of Lake Huron with her partner (current coupling still alive and kicking) and their extremely disobedient dogs. When she’s not writing, painting, gardening, stargazing, moondancing, and daydreaming, she travels the world to visit her four fabulous children who live abroad. 

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Level Best Books (Nov. 9 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 252 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1953789501
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-19537895

Just Like A Real Person by Doug Diaczuk

If you love solving puzzles like Rubik’s Cube you may be enthralled by Doug Diaczuk’s latest novel Just Like A Real Person. The two alternating narratives are recollections and observations clouded by substance abuse, trauma, brain injury, and possibly deception. Only after I reread it did my anxiety and confusion subside enough to discern the underlying messages and appreciate the depths of the story. You need to consider the narrators’ points of view vis-a-vis the others before solid patterns can emerge. 

   The main character is a junkie and unlicensed serial car-crasher in partnership with Trevor, a tow truck operator. Targeting cars entering and leaving the city, considered to be more likely to contain worldly possessions, he deliberately crashes into them head-on or from behind. The mangled vehicles are then looted and taken to the impound lot. After multiple car crashes and death-defying injuries, the protagonist one night fatefully encounters Lola. She’s wearing a memorable yellow sundress, fleeing her own demons, and looking to crash her stolen car. This chance meeting sets in motion a series of further unfortunate encounters with other characters and tragic consequences.  

    The story is convoluted and requires patience to decipher. Some of the narrative is an unpunctuated lengthy stream of consciousness followed by more lucid punctuated recaps. The damaged characters use self-destructive behaviour to numb themselves from reality and avoid the responsibility of being “real people”. The rescuers and caregivers of the maimed and dying think of their wards as nonpersons to numb themselves enough to do their jobs. The fine lines between life and death, mental health and madness, hope and despair are a constant threat. The characters tempt fate and by facing death begin to feel alive.  

   As angry as the characters made me for their wanton disregard of the consequences of their actions, I felt sympathy for their haphazard attempts to heal themselves. They flirted with becoming ‘real people’, engaged in the world, living out ‘normal’ lives. We don’t learn all the details of what brought them to this crossroads, and it is unclear if they eventually emerge safely. But they have underlying strengths and determinations that give the story a sense of hope.   

   I accept that this is a puzzle of a book that I could never solve. But I am glad I tried.  


   Doug Diaczuk who lives in Thunder Bay is a two-time winner of the 3-Day Novel Contest. This book and his first novel, Chalk, are published by Anvil Press of Vancouver. 

  • Publication: June 2021
  • ISBN: 978-1-77214-176-4
  • Pages: 128 pages
  • Size: 5.5 x 8 inches

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Glenda MacDonald
Some Rights Reserved  

Lullaby: Revisiting Ru by Kim Thúy

As part of my pandemic retrospective look at contemporary classics*, I’ve fallen back in awe of the lyricism of the novel Ru by Kim Thúy, a collection of non-linear vignettes that read like prose poetry, like we’re one with the narrator sailing on a 1975 refugee boat from South Vietnam into uncertainty with the gracious world view of a child, carried by her cadence of flowing sentences and imagery. It was first published with Libre Expression in 2009, won the Governor General’s Award for French-language fiction in 2010 and was translated exquisitely to English by Sheila Fischman in 2012, where it went on to be nominated for further prestigious Canadian literary awards.

“The lullaby mood of the book is felt throughout as juxtaposition is woven seamlessly in euphonic sentences vivid with consonance and colour, sprinkled with onomatopoeia, the repetition of hard “k” drumming heights of acoustic texture folded into an overall nuance of being cradled and rocked in a rhythmic memoir.”

Thúy opens with an explanation of the title, “In French, ru means a small stream and, figuratively, a flow, a discharge – of tears, of blood, of money. In Vietnamese, ru means a lullaby, to lull.” With this in mind, Thúy’s words lull the reader through the heartache of displacement and loss with unique detail that creates a presence of place, often a place of between, a song of humanity. Her firsthand experience living with her family as a Vietnamese refugee in a Malaysian camp designed for 200 but housing 2000 and then starting a new life in Montreal resonates through the narrator’s nurturing notes, comforting even in grief.

The lullaby mood of the book is felt throughout as juxtaposition is woven seamlessly in euphonic sentences vivid with consonance and colour, sprinkled with onomatopoeia, the repetition of hard “k” drumming heights of acoustic texture folded into an overall nuance of being cradled and rocked in a rhythmic memoir. “I came into the world during the Tet Offensive, in the early days of the Year of the Monkey, when the long chains of firecrackers draped in front of houses exploded polyphonically along with the sound of machine guns. I first saw the light of day in Saigon, where firecrackers, fragmented into a thousand shreds, coloured the ground red like the petals of cherry blossoms or like the blood of two million soldiers deployed and scattered throughout the villages and cities of a Vietnam that had been ripped in two,” Thúy writes, her landscape of sound and colour holding the tension and grief of human experience amid natural and cultural beauty still clinging to existence, diction like “fragmented” setting the inner and outer experience tempered by a lullaby tempo. It’s fluid how her similes for red embody both cherry petals and the sacrificial blood of so many lost lives as we feel for fallen humans on both sides, for those who volunteered to fight and die for what they believed was best for humanity and those who had no choice. Thúy brilliantly doesn’t mention the nationalities of the soldiers, only that their blood permeates the soil in her vision “coloured the ground red,” so that each reader can bring their own empathy to the story. Her choice to use just the noun “soldiers” and a collective number in with the colour red, both cherry petals and blood, connects emotionally with each reader in an individual way as we grieve being a species that allows wars to happen. Much like poetry, each phrase connects individually with readers to bring them into her overall unifying theme, a lullaby for the universal heartache of war.

“I was born in the shadow of skies adorned with fireworks, decorated with garlands of light, shot through with rockets and missiles,” she continues, contrast in each part of the sentence flowing in the overall lyricism that well-crafted long sentences create. The construction of her sentences with poetic devices such as alliteration make the book a lullaby through the stream of loss, sorrow and hope she articulates. Even translated from French to English, melodic poetic devices carry the prose, the translation a work of art.
The vignettes through Ru cover humorous moments in Montreal, scenes that evoke pathos as the narrator’s father proudly wears a woman’s hand-me-down sweater, the kindness of Canadians treating the narrator’s family to trips to the zoo and other outings twice in one weekend, the hard work of picking crops in fields and doing menial labour with a positive attitude to rebuild a life in Canada, the narrator’s parents taking any low paying job they could with a sense of service to their children’s futures, all told in a lyrical lullaby, a soothing song of life. From the gentleness in the telling of people falling off the sides of the boats from Vietnam and disappearing in the ocean to first impressions of snowy Quebec, “After such a long time in places without light, a landscape so white, so virginal could only dazzle us, blind us, intoxicate us,” the lullaby tone of Ru offers hope of restoration of life, peace and the loss of language and therefore intergenerational cultural connection through colonialism, what struggles to be communicated from Vietnamese into French separating generations, with a musicality that reaches across those aching chasms.
As someone who loves long sentences where phrases and dependent clauses flow in poetic harmony, I especially love the style Thúy uses to construct her lullaby, an understated acceptance of sorrow in luring, safe rhythms, an affirmation that we are allowed to speak softly regardless of subject matter.

*See Cynthia’s revisiting of Rob Taylor’s The News here.


Born in Saigon in 1968, Kim Thúy left Vietnam with the boat people at the age of ten and settled with her family in Quebec. A graduate in translation and law, she has worked as a seamstress, interpreter, lawyer, restaurant owner, media personality and television host. She lives in Montreal and devotes herself to writing. Kim Thúy has received many awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2010, and was one of the top 4 finalists of the Alternative Nobel Prize in 2018. Her books have sold more than 850,000 copies around the world and have been translated into 29 languages and distributed across 40 countries and territories.

Sheila Fischman is the award-winning translator of some 150 contemporary novels from Quebec. In 2008 she was awarded the Molson Prize in the Arts. She is a Member of the Order of Canada and a chevalier de l’Ordre national du Québec. She lives in Montreal.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Vintage Canada (March 25 2015)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 160 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0345816145
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0345816146

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Cynthia Sharp
Some Rights Reserved  

Open Your Heart by Alexie Morin, Translated by Aimee Wall

Don’t let the words “A Novel” on the cover of Alexie Morin’s book fool you. This is no work of fiction, but auto-fiction, a blend of autobiography with fictional segments of the author, a young woman who was diagnosed at age 30 with ADHD. Until that time, she grew up as “different”, was picked on by schoolmates for dressing strange, for drawing in her notebooks instead of paying attention in class, a self-described “withdrawn, solitary girl” who was born with strabismus (her left eye turned in) which was eventually corrected by surgery.

This quote nicely sums up the tone of Open Your Heart, which is all about memories, many recalled, many more forgotten:

"Memory is already a kind of narrative. Remembering is an action. I remember what I ate yesterday. I remember the books I read this year, but I can't remember them all at the same time. I remember parties, dinners with friends, I remember days on the mountain, I remember falling in love. Every time I remember, I remember differently. Memory is not a film I can simply replay. Every time I want to watch it again, I have to reconstruct it. I tell myself the story. It has scenes and characters. Emotion is the thread that connects these scenes and fleshes out these characters. It's what leaves a trace in my memory, accompanied sometimes, but not always, by words and images. I can return to this trace. If I follow it, if I'm faithful to it, everything I write will be true. Everything I've written up to now is true. Everything I've written up to now is true to my memories. When there is no memory to be true to, I still have the thread of emotion. What this writing expresses as truth, what it says about our world, can't be measured in terms of factual accuracy or faithfulness to what really happened inside me and out in the world when I was little." (pg. 268)

Apart from the author, the other main character in Open Your Heart is Fannie, a neighbour of Alexie’s. Alexie and Fannie’s story stretches from pre-school to grade school to high school, going through all the changes friendships do over the years. “We fought often”, she writes. Suddenly though, Fannie befriends Vanessa, a girl that Alexie very much dislikes and Fannie warns her not to come around when Vanessa is over at her house. This causes a rift that never completely heals and is the cause of much introspection by Alexie over the years.

Besides recollections of her relationship with Fannie, Alexie recalls several other defining moments in her life such as working a summer job at the Domtar paper mill (“the worst summer of my life”) where the hourly wage is “twenty-three dollars and 45 cents an hour…in 2003, that was a fortune”. This particular memory is cleverly interwoven with two others: climbing a tree as a child and not knowing how to get down, until her father calmly talked her through it, and creating a TV studio set for a high school production that ended with her blowing up at her art teacher. Very strong, very personal stories that while I was reading them, didn’t feel voyeuristic, but by this time, Alexie had fully taken me into her confidence and I was listening as a real understanding friend would.

Written in a journal-entry style (there are over 250 entries) Alexie’s story drifts back and forth over thirty-some years from childhood to school to Cégep to the present day. It describes life growing up in the Eastern Townships and later after she moves to Montreal.

Open Your Heart is a very different kind of read. It takes patience, but once you are used to the writing style, Ms. Morin just keeps you fascinated from start to finish. Her introspection made me pause and think of my own memories and the emotions tied to them. In short, Open Your Heart will open your own, and whether this was Ms. Morin’s intention or not, it was successful.

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!


Alexie Morin is the author of a book of poems, Chien de fusil, a novella, Royauté and the novel Ouvrir son cœur, which won the 2019 Prix des libraires du Québec. Born in Québec’s Eastern Townships, Morin is an editor for the publishing house Le Quartanier and lives in Montréal.

Aimee Wall is the author of the novel We, Jane and the translator of several Quebec novels from the French, including works by Vickie Gendreau, Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard and Maude Veilleux. Originally from Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland and Labrador, she currently lives in Montréal.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Esplanade Books (Sept. 27 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 300 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550655787
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550655780

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Fight Night by Miriam Toews

Fight Night, penned by acclaimed Canadian author Miriam Toews, provides the perspectives of three generations of women in the same family in a bitingly funny story about love, courage, and acceptance. Conveyed mainly through the viewpoint of Swiv, a nine-year-old girl who has been expelled from school for fighting, the story is told through a blend of present moment and flashbacks. The latter provides a deeper understanding of the characters and their complex relationships.

The bulk of the story is set in Toronto, Ontario, where Swiv resides with her family. Swiv and Elvira also embark on a journey to Fresno, California to visit Elvira’s nephews.

Toews provides us with colourful and unconventional characters. Swiv’s pregnant mother is an actress who seems to be constantly in battle with her stage manager. Though many of her friends and acquaintances have already passed away, Swiv’s grandmother Elvira is unafraid of dying and embraces life, refusing to remain shut in the house despite the difficulty of venturing out. Despite her many health issues, Elvira remains good-natured.

Swiv’s mother and grandmother are haphazardly home-schooling Swiv during the period of her expulsion, though not by any curriculum the Board of Education might approve. While not working on “assignments” she’s been given, or marking assignments she’s given other family members, Swiv assists with household tasks, including assisting Elvira with her needs.

Swiv and her grandmother, being at opposite ends of the age spectrum, are a study in contrasts. While Swiv is youthfully innocent and squeamish about topics like sex, nudity, and bodily functions, her grandmother has no such qualms. Yet they also have a lot in common. They are in league against Swiv’s mother, whose volatile temper sets her off on tirades at times. Swiv and Elvira also enjoy watching baseball and basketball on TV, and are enthusiastic fans of the Toronto Raptors NBA franchise.

Elvira’s occasional usage of basketball metaphors and her enthusiasm for watching the sport on television made her a refreshingly contemporary grandmother figure. She is an interesting woman, with one foot in the past (having lived most of her life in a town of “escaped Russians” under the tyranny of a man named Willit Braun), and one foot firmly in the modern world.

Swiv herself is a blend of innocence and cynicism. She wonders why her father hasn’t chosen to be part of their life and worries that her mother’s eccentricities might be contagious. Despite her sometimes cutting observations, Swiv is a likeable and empathetic character. Her willingness to help her grandmother with her daily tasks is a redeeming quality.

“The prose is powerful and well-crafted, which should come as no surprise.”

Parts of the book are written as though addressed to Swiv’s absent father, while other sections provide advice to the unborn baby who is being carried by Swiv’s mother in a geriatric pregnancy. Though the gender of the baby is unknown as yet, the main characters refer to him/her as “Gord.”

Though the majority of the story is related from Swiv’s perspective, Toews also provides glimpses into Swiv’s mother’s, and Elvira’s, viewpoints through letters, dialogue recorded by Swiv, and other methods.

There is hilarity throughout the book in both the situations and the dialogue. Some of the humour is perpetuated by Swiv’s naivete, and by the way her youth and innocence cause her to misinterpret or colour some of what is going on. Elvira’s devil-may-care attitude and Swiv’s mother’s sometimes-jaded views, caused in part by her perpetual weariness as a result of her pregnancy, add to the humour.

But the book isn’t all “fun and games” as Elvira might say. Toews weaves in some philosophical observations about life, and the need to fight for what you want. Elvira discusses the way powerful men, particularly those affiliated with the church, had a stifling and negative influence on the members of the community she grew up in, replacing the joy of life with guilt. The stories she shares with Swiv underscore the importance of having the courage to be your own person.

The prose is powerful and well-crafted, which should come as no surprise. Toews received Canada’s Governor General’s Award in 2004 for A Complicated Kindness, and has penned several other novels, including All My Puny Sorrows and Women Talking.

Readers who favour a bang-bang plot may find that Fight Night moves too slowly for their liking. But those who enjoy appreciating cutting, witty, and sometimes dark humour with a dash of philosophical thought mixed in will find much to like here.

A Miramichi Reader “Best of 2021” Fiction choice!


Miriam Toews is the author of seven bestselling novels: Women TalkingAll My Puny SorrowsSummer of My Amazing LuckA Boy of Good BreedingA Complicated KindnessThe Flying Troutmans, and Irma Voth, and one work of non-fiction, Swing Low: A Life. She is a winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Writers Trust Marian Engel/Timothy Findley Award. She lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Knopf Canada (Aug. 24 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 264 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0735282390
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0735282391
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Running Trees by Amber McMillan

One of the things that people say in reviews to indicate that a book is special, or singular, or you should read it because it holds up a mirror to our current cultural moment, or the author is speaking for a generation, or something like that. And while I personally try to avoid such broad brushes when I talk about books, I finished the first story of The Running Trees by Amber McMillan, and went, “This is so very clearly about now,” and I loved it. I think, in many ways, both conscious and not, a lot of people have been searching for narratives that describe the world they’re sitting in right now – COVID-19 has given a lot of us a lot more time to think, and it’s hard to find work which is so clearly of this particular moment but doesn’t also dwell on COVID-19 when we’re still in the middle of it. This is a strange recommendation, but the reason why I liked The Running Trees so much is that it was so spot on with its depictions of contemporary situations. None of the stories in the collection are trying to do anything grand, they simply provide a slice of average life in a Western country in the twenty-first century. And each of them sucked me in completely.

A #ReadAtlantic book!

McMillan labelled each of the stories as “Conversation #X”, followed by more descriptive titles. Each story is a scrap of something we’re invited to eavesdrop on, written as monologues, stories, and scripts, bringing us into the small day-to-day happenings. Each story is truly short and immensely digestible, from “The Dinner Party,” where the narrator feels out of place in her older boyfriend’s life, to the three scripts following a book club that meets to discuss a memoir set in their town, to another script in which a cat tells his life story. They’re all markedly different, but what makes this collection work so well and remain so cohesive is the framing of each of them, which is consistent throughout: conversations we, the readers, are overhearing.

This is such a masterful, tightly written short story collection, and unique in its voice and formatting. McMillan turns the mundane into wry, lovable tales, with images that stick with you long after you’ve finished the stories. I’ve been thinking about each of these stories over and over again since I finished them a week ago (at the time of writing this), and to me, that’s the mark of a true favourite: the stories that stick. The Running Trees, with people, cats, and imagine conversations, was a thoroughly enjoyable read.


Amber McMillan is the author of the memoir The Woods: A Year on Protection Island and the poetry collection We Can’t Ever Do This Again. Her work has also appeared in PRISM internationalArc Poetry Magazine, and the Walrus. She lives in Fredericton.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Goose Lane Editions (Sept. 7 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773101692
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773101699

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop & support independent bookstores! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link:

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Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
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Fishnets & Fantasies by Jane Doucet

Well, well, well.  Jane Doucet, you have done it again.  Just like your first novel, The Pregnant Pause, you have given your reader delightful, multi-faceted characters and laugh out loud passages that made this reader blush.   The title of this book could not be more appropriate for what a reader will encounter within its 267 pages.

Hilarious scenes involving backs being “thrown out” and adult children catching their “aged” parents “in the act” are tastefully written.  There is no need for a reader to fear any graphic details.  The author is clearly making the correlation between sex, the consequences of the act and the deeper feelings that are often overlooked when discussing sex.  The author has taken the “taboo” out of talk about sex among the geriatric set. 

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

As Wendy Hebb and her “silent partner husband” Paul, prepare to open an “adult emporium” in a small town, they face varying reactions from all sectors of the town.  Prudish high rollers, uptight locals and even the silent partner husband    Wendy gets lots of support, however, from some she never, and this reader would never, have expected to give that support.  I grew up in small-town Nova Scotia and could easily imagine the reactions of people I knew there would be similar to the reactions of the people in Fishnets & Fantasies*. 

Fishnets & Fantasies could not be a more fun name for the shop or the book. The cast of characters here includes an irreverent, female Reverend, a geriatric mayor and a chain-smoking seamstress with a secret past.  Characters who live in small towns everywhere.  Characters who never get suspected of leading lascivious lives behind closed doors! 

“The last time I checked, Thou shalt not impersonate a member of the clergy for carnal pleasure wasn’t one of the Ten Commandments.  And anyway, it’s not like I’m holding tarts-and-vicars workshops in the church basement after Sunday Service.”

Jane Doucet has a flare for writing the inner dialogue of characters as they struggle through their triumphs and challenges.  The character’s inner dialogue establishes the unspoken thoughts and feelings that ensure the reader can follow along with why they react the way they do.  Each character’s backstory here leads the book through to what this reader felt was a satisfying and believable conclusion.

Well-paced, funny and full of slap-stick comedy this book makes perfect reading in the privacy of your own home, but I encourage you to read it at the beach or while waiting at the doctor’s office.  I would love to be a “fly on the wall” when you give your answer to the inevitable question – “what’s that book about?” 

*This review was based on an advanced reading copy supplied by the publisher. You can read an interview with Jane here: The Jane Doucet Interview – The Miramichi Reader

Jane Doucet is a Halifax-based journalist whose articles have appeared in myriad magazines and newspapers, including ChatelaineCanadian LivingHalifax Magazine and The Globe and Mail. In 2017 she self-published her debut novel, The Pregnant Pause, which was shortlisted for a 2018 Whistler Independent Book Award. Jane’s humour-filled novels explore relatable relationship struggles that are touched by love, longing, and loss. She calls her second novel a “love letter” to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, one of her favourite places. Jane lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with her husband.

  • Publisher : Vagrant Press (July 13 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 272 pages
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771089586

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks!

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Old Broad Road by Phyllis Humby

Old Broad Road reads like a memoir. Humby writes in first person POV and she does it well.

Her character, Sylvia Kramer, leaves Toronto for Newfoundland. In the opening chapters we discover her search for something new after a heart-breaking event back home. We are kept in the dark as to what happened but it works well for the story and is revealed at the appropriate time.

Searching for a new beginning, Sylvia is uncertain she’s doing the right thing. A real estate agent helps her to find a new home along the gorgeous coast of Newfoundland, not far from Bay Roberts. The house is in dire need of repair and here is where Sylvia begins to settle into her new surroundings.

The people she meets welcome her with open arms and Humby does a terrific job of describing the friendly folks of Newfoundland and their unique dialogue. I especially like the character Effie. She’s a bit rough around the edges but has a big heart and becomes a close friend to Sylvia.

The bartender lifted his chin in question and Effie told him, “Give us a bt’le of rum, b’y, and throws away the cap cuz we won’t be needin’ it.”

Everything is going as planned. Sylvia couldn’t be happier with her decision, regardless of her best friend from Toronto and her children who think she’s making a mistake. But an unexpected event throws Sylvia back into her doubts. Has she done the right thing?

The story is full of lovable characters, heartbreak and redemption. It’s sprinkled with witty situations and comments. You will wish you could reach in and give Sylvia a hug.

Phyllis Humby lives in the touristy municipality of Lambton Shores, Ontario, Canada where she indulges her passion for writing award-winning short stories, from chilling thrillers to comedy, and pens a humorous monthly column Up Close and Personal for First Monday magazine. She is the author of the memoir Hazards of the Trade, and the contemporary novel Old Broad Road.

  • Publisher : Crossfield Publishing (Jan. 1 2020)
  • Language : English
  • ISBN-10 : 1999177924
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1999177928

You can order Old Broad Road directly from Crossfield Publishing here: Order Books – Crossfield Publishing.

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Dirty Birds by Morgan Murray*

What a story! Filled with loops and cliff hangers and the beloved art of poetry, sort of!

Morgan Murray, raised in Alberta and now settled in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia makes a splash with his first novel and a tale surrounded by poetry, music and romance plus some heartache. This all pales in comparison to a different look at the late, great Leonard Cohen in a work of fabulous fiction and meaning.

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

Milton Ontario, the character, not the place, can’t find himself in Bellybutton, Saskatchewan so takes himself to Montreal in hopes of finding himself, his idle Leonard Cohen and a career in poetry. What he found instead was a whirlwind of new friends, enemies and some substance for his writing. Oh, and some bird shit.

Dirty Birds, the title is explained quickly enough, is filled with substance, pictures, an escape plan and a return home. A weird and wonderful novel with two pages of – you caught me, I’m speechless and need to read this again and again – wisdom (page 488 if you’re interested) that makes the whole story so poignantly beautiful that it will live on in my heart for many, many years.

A literary mix of romance, confusion, mystery and wonder, Dirty Birds had characters I grew to love and sympathize with as they lay on their bare mattress in Montreal, using winter coats as blankets but the warmth actually came from the people themselves.

PS: It was super fun to have Morgan himself make an appearance, in a strange manner, in the story, too.

“Satirical, cleverly written, unrestrained and funny, Dirty Birds, made a great read.”

Lana Shupe, Atlantic Book Reviews.

*This review by Sarah Butland is reproduced here with her kind permission. Her website is here.

About the author: Morgan Murray was born and raised on a farm near the same west-central Alberta village as figure-skating legend Kurt Browning (Caroline). He now lives, works, plays, writes, and builds all sorts of crooked furniture in Cape Breton.

  • Publisher : Breakwater Books; Illustrated edition (July 31 2020)
  • Paperback : 432 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1550818074
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1550818079

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks!

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You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. by Sheung-King

Love can be beautiful and disastrous at the same time. In Sheung-King’s debut novel You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked., he brilliantly evokes the complexities of an intense romantic relationship with the use of lyrical language and folk tales that draw the reader in. “The rain has just stopped and the sky is bright. The birds are singing. The ground is starting to dry. I see sunlight reflected in the puddles, and droplets dripping from the tips of leaves.” Dripping on the pages of this beautifully written novel is an intimate portrayal of a love affair between a calm and philosophical man and his ambitious and strong lover.

“[Sheung-King’s] approach to the universal question of what would you do for love is handled with an astounding freshness.”

Sonia Saikaley

The lover isn’t always kind to the protagonist who seems to push aside his lover’s hurtful comments because he is drawn to and captivated with her. Sheung-King has captured the longings and anguish of a person in a mostly one-sided relationship. When the lovers are in Macau, the woman leaves the man and when he confronts her about it, she says: “I got bored of you, okay? What’s the point of travelling if you’re not having any fun? So I messaged some friends, decided to meet them in Hong Kong.” These comments make you wonder why the man sticks around.

But love can be chaotic and Sheung-King demonstrates this in startling and powerful passages that remind you of the fragility of the human heart and the yearning to be loved. His approach to the universal question of what would you do for love is handled with an astounding freshness.

Although the story focuses mostly on the love affair, the book also speaks movingly on race, especially what it means to be Asian. In the chapter entitled “I am Writing about a Hole”, Sheung-King describes the racism the main character faces. While playing basketball in high school, a discriminatory comment is directed at the protagonist. However, he doesn’t confront the other student. “When the hole is present, the part of you that wants to speak vanishes and you lose the desire to say anything – like when you lose your appetite after drinking too much coffee.”

Though the writing is powerful, there are some sections that read like explanatory essays in place of action and, as a result, take us out of the narrative. But despite these momentary detours, this soul-searching novel will make readers look forward to Sheung-King’s future books.

About the author: Sheung-King is a writer and educator. His work has appeared in PRISM International, The Shanghai Literary Review, and The Humber Literary Review, among others. He is currently a lecturer at the University of Guelph and Sheridan College. You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. is Sheung-King’s debut book. Originally from Hong Kong, he lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher: Book*hug Press (Oct. 27, 2020)
  • Paperback: 195 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1771666412
  • ISBN-13: 978-1771666411

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The Rage Room by Lisa de Nikolits

Toronto author Lisa de Nikotis writes some very good and very imaginative novels. Her latest, The Rage Room is a dystopian novel set in 2055 in a world that is controlled by a woman named Minnie. Capitalism reigns. Consumerism is rampant, for everything including the weather is controlled, so people have little to do but work and shop. The natural world has been all but eradicated and replaced by imitation pants and trees. There are apps to make your physical appearance more pleasing. Almost everything is fake. Minnie has endorsed the use of “Rage Rooms” where people can blow off steam in a safe, controlled environment. Our protagonist, Sharps Barkley is a true Mr. Angry and a regular in the rooms.

Mother looked at me and shook her head. “….you’re the perfect anger machine. I don’t know why, Sharps, but your fundamental, instinctive, feral rage is a rare thing. There are some things that even science can’t explain.”
The pinprick of her words deflated me. Yes. That was me: Mr. Angry. From the cradle to the grave.

Other than his unaccounted for rage, Sharps has everything going for him: a high-paying and secure position at Integratron, married to the boss’ daughter Celeste (who, among other things, is a recovering alcoholic, and spends more time off the wagon than on), Baxter, his young son, and his work partner Jazza Frings who comes up with great marketing ideas for the team. Yet, Sharps is not happy. Coming off paternal leave and having to go back to the working world has him depressed and anxious. The day before he returns, he meets with Jazza and learns some disturbing news that makes Sharps all the more distressed about work.

His whole world is about to go pear-shaped.

At this point in the novel, Sharps is introduced to an underground matriarchal movement wanting to overthrow Minnie and bring nature back. And it involves time travel, which they have been experimenting with. This presents Sharps with the possibility of travelling back in time to right a lot of wrongs he has just committed in real-time. Instead of setting things right, though, he commits more blunders and he gets a glimpse of a world with all control removed. It’s not pretty.

The Rage Room contains passing references to the destruction of the environment, colonialism, class distinction, consumer capitalism and other ills of society that we face today. It also contains Ms. de Nikolits’ trademark humour with lines such as:

  • Dragging myself out of bed was harder than dragging a horse’s head across a row of parked cars, the nightmare from which I had awakened.
  • “The inside of your brain looked like a snow globe on acid and speed.”
  • Consumerism was still our god. all we did was shop, eat, and sleep – the new Holy Trinity.
  • “I feel like we’re all so confused here. Like a bunch of deja vu moments are cross-pollinating and making crazy patterns in my mind.”

I believe that The Rage Room is Lisa de Nikolits’ best novel yet. She has managed to maintain a stable locus of control over the entire story and the result is a very satisfying read. I would like to state that the editing is extremely solid, which serves to make The Rage Room the type of book that is tough to put down. Personally, I find any book (or movie) with a time travel theme boggles my mind and Sharps interferes with so many timelines that it’s difficult to keep following the consequences of his actions (or inaction, in one case). Nevertheless, The Rage Room has much to say about the present world, the near future and the de-evolution of humankind.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

About the author: Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits is an award-winning author whose work has appeared on recommended reading lists for both Open Book Toronto and the 49th Shelf, as well as being chosen as a Chatelaine Editor’s Pick and a Canadian Living Magazine Must Read. She has published nine novels that most recently include: No Fury Like That (published in Italian under the title Una furia dell’altro mondo); Rotten Peaches and The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution. Lisa lives and writes in Toronto.

  • Publisher : Inanna Poetry & Fiction Series (Oct. 30 2020)
  • Language: : English
  • Paperback : 312 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 177133777X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771337779

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks! 

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Czech Techno & Other Stories of Music by Mark Anthony Jarman

If you like your stories to follow a straight line, this quintuplet may give you whiplash. Each one invites you into an introspective world of intense emotions, whether for a woman, 4-track cassette, California in the 90s, or disdain for accordions and addiction aftermath. Plenty of play on wordplay suggest that these stories are best heard aloud, so either find someone to read to you, or try reading aloud. If aloud isn’t your jam but you love music, I’ve recommended a playlist accompaniment as you read, whether in your head or through actual speakers. Jarman’s poetry is interwoven in narrative, swaddled in man’s lust, thirst for lyrical movement, and predictable shortcomings. If you have the time, it’s a quick name-dropping read for postmodern appreciation.

“If you like your stories to follow a straight line, this quintuplet may give you whiplash.”

Czech Techno transports us to Ireland with some in-fighting amongst the band and the presence of a distraction, a past relationship taking us through flashbacks before returning to present day where the narrative is still tripping over shards of what was broken. If background music were playing, you’d likely hear a downbeat ballad from The Cure.

I read Johnny Cash in the Viper Room while listening to “Johnny Cash: A Night to Remember” on vinyl thinking it would be the soundtrack to this heartbeat. Alas, no pulse as the themes included a deadening relationship, dead celebrity, and career decline in the form of Johnny Cash’s wispy grey hair charging through small town venues. Michael is haunted by Anna while indulging more word play (“a surfer, your server, a serf”). The now defunct Viper Room was made notorious, not just for the celebrity fare frequently photographed at 3am, but for the passing of River Phoenix in 1993, cemented by various drug of choice rumours on the sidewalk. Experimental jazz best describes the cadence for this piece.

The gem in this series of musical chairs is Pine Slopes, Sweet Apple Slopes. In musical parlance, this one starts with the catchy verse and to partially quote Blues Traveler, has the “hook that brings you back”. The wordplay now has rhythm. Sleep is an unattainable mistress at the Elephant Hotel, but there is the continued yearning for a woman, unrequited. Whether it’s Sally or the idea of a composite her is not always obvious. “We all know the snare inserts drama, tension.” I’d agree if this story moved to a drum corps beat, but there’s a mix of open high hat offbeats punctuated with crash cymbals, at the bar over drinks, upon discovery of a lightning crash recipient, and desperate words spoken. Recommended listening for this trip is Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes.

Choose any Lou Reed song while reading Harris Green Below the Christian Science Reading Room, a brief tour of gentrification clashing with drug overdoses, SROs, and homeless in a pricey west coast lifestyle postal code.

This collection closes with Nowhere Man’s Second Day at the Ruins. The volcanic ruins of Pompeii are tarnished with mundane tourist nuisances, while lava bubbles in the form of a fed-up lead singer. For the last recommended song on the playlist, 7 Seconds by Youssou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry will give you all the feels.

About the author: Mark Anthony Jarman is the author of Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, My White Planet, 19 Knives, New Orleans Is Sinking, Dancing Nightly in the Tavern, and the travel book Ireland’s Eye. His novel, Salvage King Ya!, is on’s list of 50 Essential Canadian Books and is the number one book on Amazon’s list of best hockey fiction. Mark is a graduate of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a Yaddo fellow, and currently teaches at the University of New Brunswick. His Selected Stories is forthcoming from Biblioasis Press.

  • Publisher : Anvil Press (Nov. 30 2020)
  • Language: : English
  • Paperback : 96 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1772141380
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1772141382

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks! 

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One for the Rock by Kevin Major

In One for the Rock, his first venture into crime fiction, Kevin Major has written a fast-paced and highly enjoyable novel that will appeal to fans of the genre, but which also offers the dual bonus of an engaging narrator and a vividly rendered St. John’s, Newfoundland setting. Recently divorced ex-teacher Sebastian Synard runs a tour operation, St. John’s landmarks being his specialty. It is a boutique enterprise, accepting a half-dozen clients at a time.

His latest group holds no surprises, demographically speaking, being mostly folk in their latter years (60s to 80s) from the U.S. and Canada, the exception being 40-something Renée Sipp, from France. They set out on their initial excursion, a trek along Signal Hill. But there’s a mishap, fatal as it turns out. One trekker, Graham, annoyingly attached to his cell phone, tumbles over a guard rail to his death. By all accounts, the incident seems an unfortunate accident. But something doesn’t add up, and Sebastian, in possession of Graham’s phone, becomes suspicious and to satisfy his curiosity conducts a haphazard inquiry in parallel with the official police investigation.

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

From this point the novel takes flight, drawing the reader into a deepening mystery that veers along with unforeseen twists and turns and eventually places Sebastian in life-threatening danger. One of the delights of this breezy entertainment is Sebastian’s complex personal life, which includes a young son who knows how to teach his father a thing or two about searching the internet, and an ex-wife who rarely passes up an opportunity to point out her ex-husband’s shortcomings and who, as it happens, is romantically involved with the lead detective in the murder case.

Sebastian’s sardonic attitude toward life and living is reflected in his first-person narrative voice, which peppers the text with plenty of ironic asides and snarky observations about human nature and mainlanders’ assumptions about Newfoundland. One for the Rock may not be the most profound novel you’ll encounter this year, but Kevin Major—a veteran writer with books of adult and YA fiction, poetry, history, and drama to his credit—knows how to spin a good yarn and not waste a single word while doing it.

About the author: Governor General Award winner Kevin Major is the author of seventeen books—fiction, literary non-fiction, poetry, and plays. As Near To Heaven By Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador was a Canadian bestseller. He lives in St. John’s.

  • Paperback : 192 pages
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1550816877
  • ISBN-10 : 155081687X
  • Publisher : Breakwater Books (April 20 2018)

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