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Strong Winds, Rains & Hurricanes
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Strong Winds, Rains & Hurricanes

By 49thShelf
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Canadian books in which furious weather features
The Carnivore

The Carnivore

A Novel
also available: Hardcover Paperback
tagged : historical

Winner of the 2010 Toronto Book Award

The Carnivore is a historical novel of disaster and betrayal, set in the Toronto of both 1954 and 2004.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel, a young cop, Ray Townes, emerges as a hero. There are numerous accounts of his bravery, of the way he battled all night to save those who were trapped in houses swept away by the raging Humber River. His story is featured prominently in the newspapers, thrusting him into the spotlight as a local celebrity.

His wife perform …

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When Fenelon Falls

When Fenelon Falls

also available: eBook
tagged : literary

A spaceship hurtles towards the moon, hippies gather at Woodstock, Charles Manson leads a cult into murder and a Kennedy drives off a Chappaquiddick dock: it’s the summer of 1969. And as mankind takes its giant leap, Jordan May March, disabled bastard and genius, age fourteen, limps and schemes her way towards adulthood. Trapped at the March family’s cottage, she spends her days memorizing Top 40 lists, avoiding her adoptive cousins, catching frogs and plottingto save Yogi, the bullied, butt …

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The Girls

The Girls

also available: Paperback

In Lori Lansens’ astonishing second novel, readers come to know and love two of the most remarkable characters in Canadian fiction. Rose and Ruby are twenty-nine-year-old conjoined twins. Born during a tornado to a shocked teenaged mother in the hospital at Leaford, Ontario, they are raised by the nurse who helped usher them into the world. Aunt Lovey and her husband, Uncle Stash, are middle-aged and with no children of their own. They relocate from the town to the drafty old farmhouse in the …

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ruby & me


I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I’ve never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or solo walk. I’ve never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I’ve never done, but oh, how I’ve been loved. And, if such things were to be, I’d live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so ­exponentially.

My sister, Ruby, and I, by mishap or miracle, having intended to divide from a single fertilized egg, remained joined instead, by a spot the size of a bread plate on the sides of our twin heads. We’re known to the world medical community as the oldest surviving craniopagus twins (we are twenty-­nine years old) and to millions around the globe, those whose interest in people like us is more than just passing, as conjoined craniopagus twins Rose and Ruby Darlen of Baldoon County. We’ve been called many things: freaks, horrors, monsters, devils, witches, retards, wonders, marvels. To most, we’re a curiosity. In small-­town Leaford, where we live and work, we’re just “The Girls.”

Raise your right hand. Press the base of your palm to the lobe of your right ear. Cover your ear and fan out your fingers – that’s where my sister and I are affixed, our faces not quite side by side, our skulls fused together in a circular pattern running up the temple and curving around the frontal lobe. If you glance at us, you might think we’re two women embracing, leaning against the other ­tête-­à-­tête, the way sisters do.

Ruby and I are identical twins and would be identical looking, having high foreheads like our mother and wide, full mouths, except that Ruby’s face is arranged quite nicely (in fact, Ruby is very beautiful), whereas my features are misshapen and frankly grotesque. My right eye slants steeply towards the place my right ear would have been if my sister’s head had not grown there instead. My nose is longer than Ruby’s, one nostril wider than the other, pulled to the right of my brown slanted eye. My lower jaw shifts to the left, slurring my speech and giving a husky quality to my voice. Patches of eczema rouge my cheeks, while Ruby’s complexion is fair and flawless. Our scalps marry in the middle of our conjoined heads, but my frizzy hair has a glint of auburn, while my sister is a swingy brunette. Ruby has a deep cleft in her chin, which people find ­endearing.

I’m five feet five inches tall. When we were born, my limbs were symmetrical, in proportion to my body. Presently, my right leg is a full three inches shorter than my left, my spine compressed, my right hip cocked, and all because I have carried my sister like an infant, since I was a baby myself, Ruby’s tiny thighs astride my hip, my arm supporting her posterior, her arm forever around my neck. Ruby is my sister. And strangely, undeniably, my ­child.

There is some discomfort in our conjoinment. Ruby and I experience mild to severe neck, jaw, and shoulder pain, for which we take physiotherapy three times a week. The strain on my body is constant, as I bear Ruby’s weight, as I tote Ruby on my hip, as I struggle to turn Ruby over in our bed or perch on my stool beside the toilet for what seems like hours. (Ruby has a multitude of bowel and urinary tract problems.) We are challenged, certainly, and uncomfortable, sometimes, but neither Ruby nor I would describe our conjoinment as painful.

It’s difficult to explain our locomotion as conjoined twins or how it developed from birth using grunts and gestures and what I suppose must be telepathy. There are days when, like a normal person, we’re clumsy and uncoordinated. We have less natural symbiosis when one of us (usually Ruby) is sick, but mostly our dance is a smooth one. We hate doing things in unison, such as answering yes or no at the same time. We never finish each other’s sentences. We can’t shake our heads at once or nod (and wouldn’t if we could – see above). We have an unspoken, even unconscious, system of checks and balances to determine who’ll lead the way at any given moment. There is conflict. There is ­compromise.

Ruby and I share a common blood supply. My blood flows normally in the left side of my brain, but the blood in my right (the connected side) flows to my sister’s left, and vice versa for her. It’s estimated that we share a web of one hundred veins as well as our skull bones. Our cerebral tissue is fully enmeshed, our vascular systems snarled like briar bushes, but our brains themselves are separate and functioning. Our thoughts are distinctly our own. Our selves have struggled fiercely to be unique and, in fact, we’re more different than most identical twins. I like sports, but I’m also bookish, while Ruby is girlie and prefers television. When Ruby is tired, I’m hardly ever ready for bed. We’re rarely hungry together and our tastes are poles apart: I prefer spicy fare, while my sister has a disturbing fondness for ­eggs.

Ruby believes in God and ghosts and reincarnation. (Ruby won’t speculate on her next incarnation though, as if imagining something different from what she is now would betray us both.) I believe the best the dead can hope for is to be conjured from time to time, through a note of haunting music or a passage in a book.

I’ve never set eyes on my sister, except in mirror images and photographs, but I know Ruby’s gestures as my own, through the movement of her muscles and bone. I love my sister as I love myself. I hate her that way too.
This is the story of my life. I’m calling it “Autobiography of a Conjoined Twin.” But since my sister claims that it can’t technically (“technically” is Ruby’s current favourite word) be considered an autobiography and is opposed to my telling what she considers our story, I have agreed that she should write some chapters from her point of view. I will strive to tell my story honestly, allowing that my truth will be coloured a shade different from my sister’s and acknowledging that it’s sometimes necessary for the writer to connect the dots.

From the Hardcover edition.

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In The Place Of Last Things

In The Place Of Last Things

tagged : literary

A finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Canada and Caribbean region), and a Globe and Mail Notable Book of the Year
After his father’s death, Russ Littlebury inherits the task of driving his aunt to her winter home in Arizona. While in Montana, he promises the daughter of a family friend that he will search for her absconded boyfriend, Jack Marks — a man Russ will discover is manipulative, charismatic, and brutal. As Russ …

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He woke in the new utter dark and swung his feet to the floor, maintaining motion until he was dressed against the chill already gaining the interior. The clock read 2:38. He took the flashlight from the bed table and made his way flight by flight to the basement. In two movements known by touch he turned off all but one breaker and reset the standby power switch, then climbed to the entryway for his parka and boots with his breath breaking there above the beam.

Outside, night sky on the snow. A lone highway sound came miles along crystals of ice hung dimeshining in the quarter moon. When the generator started on the third pull he attached the wire to the ground lug, led the cord out and pressed the head to the 220 outlet. The kitchen light appeared in the empty house. He positioned his father’s old anvil against the open door of the garage, then stepped high and deliberate through the knee-­deep and crossed to his neighbour’s yard. He bent to clean the snow from the runners, gripped both hands on one side of the tool shed’s sliding doors and pulled open a space wide enough to move into. A skiff of snow had fingered through the opening where the doors ­wouldn’t meet. The generator was just a few feet inside where he could find it in the dark.

He poured a little gasoline to prime the engine, a line of faintest light bending along the arc. The engine played dead for a time but came to on the seventh pull and the shed was loud and soon there ­wouldn’t be enough air. He turned on the light. A dead cat on its side frozen cuneiform near the wall. He collected it by the tail and thought hatchet.

Back in the garage he removed the torn side bag from the Lawn-­Boy. The cat fit exact. He closed up both ends with wire. To repair the holes he removed his gloves and used his fingers to find the end of the duct tape. When the job was done he lay the cat on the concrete and told him he had died a joiner.

His steps along the packed path to the house sounding like nails clawed from old lumber beams, he crossed hare tracks, the delicate passage that lingered there as certain as the ice storm somewhere miles away. Grain elevators soldiered to the north against the dustings of galaxies. The town was in black but for the hospital, its lemon brick pocked in the emergency lamplight of the backup power that still kicked in though the place itself had been shut down since summer, the only services now a clinic three days a week and an ambulance to move the very sick and injured to a town forty miles away. In the fall had been machine accidents, mangled crying along the long highway.

After a minute inside, his breath began to thaw in his eyebrows and nostrils. He towelled his face in the mirror. A 230-­pound version of a white man returned from the burning cold, clear eyes, skin flushed the colour of red-­figure frescoes he’d studied in books. He’d dreamt the colour that very night, he recalled. In some other season or epoch was a clay wall emanating heat, and some form swept into the pigment ready to awaken and find him there watching.

On the kitchen bench-­seat he opened another tin of sweets from the Lions Club, looked, set it aside. They’d given him a turkey plate at Christmas like they did for widowers, and the sweets kept coming. He’d given some to Skidder and to Mrs. Ellis next door but the rest had dried into small, hard consolations on the counter.

The first quality of soul is patience — it was a line from his learning. Patience was his company lately.

After the town lights came up he went out and killed the generators and came back in. He took his place again and sat awake in the kitchen through until dawn.


In the days that followed, the cold broke and the highs reached minus-­twenty. In the mornings the ice fog and hoarfrost made the town look like a calendar shot. Russ ­didn’t phone anyone he ­couldn’t visit in person. He took breakfast in the coffee shop of the Flyway Motel, where he sometimes used to, lingered a few minutes in the post office to say his hellos, dropped a thank-­you note off at the Colliston Sentinel three weeks late. He visited his dad’s grave for the first time since the funeral. He bought items at the Co-­Op store rather than having them delivered. Eight or ten times a day he received passing condolences and heard an old dog joke he’d resurrected for Skidder the previous week.

At the Credit Union, Russ told loan manager Glen Stockard he’d like to sign something so Glen could look after his bills if anything should happen to him. Glen listened with great circumspection as Russ explained where he was going and why. Behind Glen, in lieu of a window with nearly the same prospect, was an oil painting with a view of the town’s grain elevators from the Main Street of twenty years ago. Russ noted to himself that the painting’s sad and hopeful quality had less to do with the fact that two of the elevators had since been torn down than that the colours were a little wrong. In ’88, after four years of drought and bad markets, Glen and the bank took title to almost half of the family’s land and rented it back to Russ’s father so someone would be working at the debt. The half that the family kept was under a company name, the Circle L Ranch, whose shareholders were Mike and his brother, Russ’s Uncle Reese in Saskatoon. The degree to which Reese hated banks would have been dangerous in most men.

“I ­can’t look after ranch expenses, Russ. You’ll need your uncle to sign over power of attorney.”

“There’s no ranch. All that’s left is the lawyer.”

“I know that. But I need the signature.”

Russ looked out the window at nothing.

“I know how your dad ran things for his brother, but ­don’t you forge this.”

Glen pushed himself back from his steel desk and glided until the casters met up with an electrical cord snaked over the carpet, then reclined, laid his hands as if in prayer on his belly. He was a typical homegrown, beefy and thick-­limbed, blunted hands and face. He stared a moment at the two cows grazing underwater in the paperweight snow globe on his desk.

God forbid something should happen to Russ while he was taking Jean down to Arizona, Glen explained, then he’d be left holding a lot of questions it ­wasn’t his place to answer.

“If your uncle ­doesn’t know about signing over his authority then things would get muddy.”

“You’d send a man out on the road in this cold?”

“There’s technology, Canada Post. And the other thing. You’re not superstitious, are you?”

“Not even on a bad day.”

“I hate to bring up the scenario again but I want to ask about your will. There’d be a helluva mess for your executor with certain estate questions already in probate.”

“It’s in shape.”

“Good. I hear Skidder’s going down with you. He’s started up again with the stories about his Wild West relative.”

“His coming along ­wasn’t my call.”

“I bet not. I’ll remember you in church.”

As he left the office Russ saw the teller counter lined with little white death notices that the paper printed up and distributed. The cards announced the funerals and businesses left them up for a few weeks to collect charity donations. In the last five-­week stretch there’d been thirteen funerals, the usual winter kill.

Russ ducked his head back in and asked Glen if there’d been any lost-cat stories in the air. He said no but he’d heard a good dog joke.

“Listen, you’ve been looking out for me. I ­can’t remember if I thanked you.”

“It’s my job.”

“No, it’s not.”

“I ­wasn’t gonna ask, Russ, but — it’s been a couple months now.”

“What is it?”

Glen evidently ­couldn’t find a side door to the matter.

“I ­don’t know. You used to have an entertaining temper. Now you just scare people.”

“Well spread the news. They can come out of their houses again.”

Along the street he walked thinking of the other Russ, whom he knew inside and out like a favourite character in a novel he’d read over and over but never entirely through. The other Russ had been out in the world, schooled to no apparent end. He had a mean corrective streak. He measured all others and himself against his father, and he and they together fell short. He made sense so neatly that Russ had stopped believing in him.
He passed rusting propane tanks stacked upright behind a machine shop, leaning like loaves in a bakery window in an eastern city in October when the bread seeps out into the chill and you go inside to take a number and marvel at the names, all the variations of a simple thing like “bread” worked up from a single crusted syllable. You are at any moment the sum of what you’ve closed your hand upon or ever hoped to and said the name of. To really forget a thing, you had to forget it in your hands, on your tongue.

This was the place for such a forgetting. White, featureless, cold. His radiant host of the learned dead had followed him to these frozen reaches. They’d been a comfort to him, had even helped him nurse his dying father, though when he died they left town. In his sleepless nights he’d not picked up a book but waited each one out to its end.

And that had left him only duty. He had inherited little else. At the moment it was leading southward and away. Jean was now almost three months late getting to her winter place. He would rather stay, but he had no choice. Duty had released him from choice.

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The Glory Wind

The Glory Wind

also available: eBook

A young boy must come to terms with the moral prejudices of his small town in the prairies in the 40's when he befriends the daughter of a young widow who moves in next door. Gracie is unlike anyone Luke has ever met - fun, charming, imaginative and full of life. But when the townsfolk discover that her mother's past is less than completely honourable, they set out to isolate both mother and daughter.

This striking new novel from Valerie Sherrard explores themes of friendship, loyalty, hypocrisy …

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From one of Canada’s beloved fiction writers comes a tale of love and loss, guilt and forgiveness -- and finding redemption in the eye of a hurricane.

Few people seek out the tiny Caribbean island of Dampier Cay. Visitors usually wash up there by accident, rather than by design. But this weekend, three people will fly to the island deliberately. They are not coming for a tan or fun in the sun. They are coming because Dampier Cay is where it is, and they have reason to believe that they might en …

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After Four a-clock the Thunder and Rain abated, and then we saw a Corpus Sant at the Main-top-mast Head, on the very Top of the Truck of the Spindle. This sight rejoiced our Men exceedingly; for the height of the Storm is commonly over when the Corpus Sant is seen aloft; but when they are seen lying on the Deck, it is generally accounted a bad Sign.

A Corpus Sant is a certain small glittering Light; when it appears as this did, on the very Top of the Main-mast or at a Yard-arm, it is like a Star; but when it appears on the Deck, it resembles a great Glow-worm. The Spaniards have another Name for it (though I take even this to be a Spanish or Portuguese Name, and a Corruption only of Corpus Sanctum) and I have been told that when they see them, they presently go to Prayers, and bless themselves for the happy Sight. I have heard some ignorant Seamen discoursing how they have seen them creep, or, as they say, travel about in the Scuppers, telling many dismal Stories that hapned at such times . . .

–William Dampier, A New Voyage Round the World

There once was an island named Dampier Cay. It lay to the southwest of Jamaica, making a triangle with that country and the Caymans. Dampier Cay was, technically, under English governance; it retained the pound as its official currency, for example, even though no one on the island accepted, or carried, the local money. All transactions were made using the American dollar.

Dampier Cay was a narrow strip of land, a few miles long, that nature had pushed forth from the water for no good reason. Still, it was land, and people built there. Because there was not much of it, property was relatively expensive. Some wealthy white people owned estates. The black people who worked for the white people lived in a tiny hamlet, Williamsville, which was near the centre of the island. Dampier Cay ran north and south, but it was bent in the middle. There was a harbour there; aside from a couple of local fishing trawlers, it was rarely used.

On either end of Dampier Cay were resorts. At the south end was a big hotel. It claimed the best beaches and was popular, by island standards, with tourists. At the north end was a place called the Water’s Edge, a collection of buildings that sat near the bottom of the island’s only significant hill.

That hill was called Lester’s Hump. Reporters were confused by that, for a while, because after the storm a man named Lester was found at the top, along with two white women. But Lester’s Hump had been so called for over two hundred years, ever since William Dampier had directed Lester Cooper to cart liquor and victuals up to the top. Dampier had seen weather coming.

But the Day ensuing, which was the 4th Day of July, about Four a-Clock in the Afternoon, the Wind came to the N.E. and freshned upon us, and the Sky looked very black in that quarter, and the black Clouds began to rise apace and moved towards us; having hung all the Morning in the Horizon.
The island’s east coast, much of it anyway, is a rock cliff that rises a mean height of twenty-five feet. It seemed reasonable protection should the weather and the water get into cahoots, but William Dampier had seen many odd things in his journeys, and heard much odder. He’d heard about waves that stood thirty yards tall. So he directed Lester Cooper to take the flour, sugar, suet, etc., to the summit, and the other men laughed and called it Lester’s Hump.

There is, today, a small cross at the summit of Lester’s Hump. It is made out of wood and whitewashed, and someone attends to it, keeping the cross pristine and cultivating a small bed of flowers around its base. At the foot of Lester’s Hump there are ghostly suggestions of civilization and order – scattered timbers and pieces of metal and machinery. Further south, trees have been thrown over and lie criss-crossed, like wooden matches that have been rattled in the box and then tossed onto the ground. Beyond this is where Williamsville once stood. A handful of black people still live there, in hastily built, ramshackle constructions. Oddly, there are a few estates that stand in good condition, but the owners have boarded the windows and put up optimistic For Sale signs. The big hotel remains, although no tourists ever go there, because Dampier Cay no longer exists.

It was a fairly easy matter for Dampier Cay to disappear, because it had never proclaimed its existence with any authority. It was not even on all maps. Many derive from the originals made by William Dampier, who was the Royal Cartographer, although he spent much of his time buccaneering with his Merry Boys. Ironically, having named the island after himself, Dampier left it off his depiction of the area. Where it should have been dotted, Dampier fashioned a large and ornate C to begin the word Caribbee.


To get to Dampier Cay, in the days when it still existed, either one had to know exactly what one was doing – only one tiny airline serviced the island, the airport a glorified bungalow near Miami, Florida – or else one came by chance.

Gail and Sorvig, whom you will meet, stumbled upon the island, or at least the knowledge of its existence, at a travel agency in New York City. One of them had idly picked up a small flyer from the Water’s Edge. The print was crooked, rendered out of Letraset, and announced prices much cheaper than any other resort. The flyer also featured a drawing of a bonefish, sleek and fierce-looking. The drawing was made by a man named Maywell Hope, although, when you meet him, you may find that hard to credit. Hope made the flyer and took it to the post office in Williamsville, where he and the postmistress mimeographed two hundred copies. Hope and the postmistress then used her computer to select random vacation bureaus around the world, and mailed them out.

Maywell Hope made the flyer over the protestations of Polly Greenwich, his common-law wife and the owner of the Water’s Edge. Polly possessed a kind of grim optimism, and was convinced that business was as good as could be expected. Polly herself had come to Dampier Cay by chance, from New Zealand. Her first husband had died from cancer, he had withered away; and when he was gone, Polly boarded an airplane, not caring where it was headed, then she bought a berth on a cruising yacht, and one day the ship anchored at Dampier Cay. While the rest of the passengers went snorkelling, Polly wandered the small island until she came upon the collection of buildings at the bottom of Lester’s Hump. She had lunch in the little restaurant and, sipping her coffee afterwards, decided to purchase the place. It wasn’t a life she would have designed, but at least it was a life, it had purpose and parameters. There was even a bonus, a lover who came with the deal, the tall sunburnt fishing guide and transport captain, Maywell Hope.

Maywell had come to Dampier Cay by the purest of chance – he was born there. So was Lester Vaughan, retained at the Water’s Edge as gardener and general handyman. The two had actually been fast friends as boys, and as young men they had shared many evenings at the Royal Tavern, consuming vast quantities of rum in honour of their ancestors. Then, you know, events had taken place. Maywell Hope no longer drank; Lester claimed he’d given it up but too often would return to the bottle. Lester would disappear, sometimes for days on end, and, when he turned up again, most often could be found sleeping it off in the tiny cemetery beside the pale blue church.

There are three more people to meet. These people came neither by chance nor by design – or perhaps more accurately, by a combination of the two. What I’m getting at is that these three came because Dampier Cay was where it was, and they had reason to believe they might encounter something there, something most people take great measures to avoid.

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A Student of Weather

A Student of Weather


From some accidents of love and weather we never quite recover. At the worst of the Prairie dust bowl of the 1930s, a young man appears out of a blizzard and forever alters the lives of two sisters. There is the beautiful, fastidious Lucinda, and the tricky and tenacious Norma Joyce, at first a strange, self-possessed child, later a woman who learns something of self-forgiveness and of the redemptive nature of art. Their rivalry sets the stage for all that follows in a narrative spanning over th …

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Seal Song

Seal Song

also available: Audiobook eBook

Finn loves to swim with the seals in a secret cove. He arrives at the cove one day and rescues a young seal tangled in netting. Finn wishes the seal could live on land. That night the seals sing. "No good comes from seal songs," says Finn's father. When Sheila, a mysterious girl no one has ever seen before, appears on the cannery docks, the fisher folk are uneasy. They believe the newcomer is a magical selkie, a shape changer.

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The storm threw down a curtain of rain.
    "FINN!" screamed Sheila as she lost sight of him.
    In heaving swells, Finn's boat floundered. The wind howled, freezing his hands. The rain became blinding sleet. "Which way?" he cried.
    On the beach, Sheila sang, "Eeeeiiiiii, eeeeiiiiii." A magic song. A seal song.
    The piercing notes reached Finn. He rowed toward her voice, but the wind shifted.

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