The Year in Books: 2020

Our annual review of new books by local authors and illustrators.

November 24, 2020 | | Arts

Ahhh, books. They entertain, educate and – especially useful in times like these – transport us to new and exciting places beyond words and beyond the four walls surrounding us.

Your garden may be put to bed for the winter, but feel the vicarious thrill of sinking your hands into fertile earth with Minding the Garden, Brian Bixley’s memoir of his 50-year campaign against the fickle gardening gods. Leave the real world completely behind and dive into the mind-bending landscapes of Rudolf Kurz’s Bizarre and Gail Prussky’s The Secret Life of Doris Melnick. Feel the exhaustion and heartbreak of helping Syrian refugees clamber onto a rocky shore in Greece in Steven Heighton’s Reaching Mithymna. Or slake your need for a satisfying rant by dipping into Harry Posner’s finely honed poems in Blue Is Bigger Than Brown.

Teens are invited to disappear into Shelley Peterson’s new Jockey Girl mystery, The Jagged Circle, while the wee ones will enjoy the excitement of growing a massive pumpkin in Carolyn j Morris’s Paisley’s Pumpkin.

So find a cozy spot, snuggle in and let a book take you away.

And please shop local bookstores for your good reads. The small businesses of Headwaters need your support!

Nature Where We Live Activities to Engage Your Inner Scientist from Pond Dipping to Animal Tracking

Nature Where We Live
Activities to Engage Your Inner Scientist from Pond Dipping to Animal Tracking

by Don Scallen

Nature Where We Live is the perfect guide to ease kids away from screens and encourage them to reconnect with the natural world. Travelling no farther than a local park and needing only minimal gear, both kids and adults will enjoy searching for fairy shrimp, timberdoodles, singing insects and winter tracks. Each activity includes notes on how to tread softly on the earth, ideas to enhance and extend the experience, and bold photography that’s sure to grab everyone’s interest.

A retired middle school science teacher, Don Scallen continues to educate through lectures and workshops, as well as the nature articles he writes for this magazine and his “Notes from the Wild” blog at (Knotty Toad Press, $20)

Minding the Garden Lilactree Farm

Minding the Garden
Lilactree Farm

by Brian Bixley photography by Des Townshend

When Brian and Maureen Bixley bought an old farmhouse in the Mulmur hills, gardening wasn’t even on their radar. It started with birds. Perhaps a shrub or two might bring more to the yard. Fifty years later, the garden at Lilactree Farm is a 2.5-acre ode to the horticultural gods. Dipping into his gardening journal, begun in 1968, and subsequent newsletter, Bixley takes readers through the seasons and through the years. But Minding the Garden is not so much a history of the Bixley garden and a collection of gardening how-to notes as an intriguing meditation on what the garden has inspired: thoughtful contemplation of everything from Shakespeare and opera to the illustrious Monty Don and a multitude of other subjects.

With vivid colour photographs by Orangeville’s Des Townshend, Minding the Garden is the perfect winter read. While the earth sleeps, gardeners make grand plans. Cue the laughing gods. (FriesenPress, $45)

Reaching Mithymna Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos

Reaching Mithymna
Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos

by Steven Heighton

In 2015, Steven Heighton flew to Lesvos, Greece, where thousands of Syrian refugees were washing up on the hard-scrabble coastline. During his month-long stint working with other volunteers, he helped provide dry clothes, food and temporary care to boatload after boatload of desperate people.

Reaching Mithymna reads like a poetic fever dream. Sleep-deprived, inexperienced volunteers ride adrenalin highs to hard, inevitable crashes. Refugees, many in shock and hypothermic, cling to loved ones, still fearing they may be separated. Many of their life jackets, purchased from rapacious profiteers, were stuffed with bubble wrap or cardboard. But despite the trauma, there are rare moments of brilliance. And hope.

In 2016 Steven Heighton won the Governor General’s Award for poetry for The Waking Comes Late. His most recent novel is The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep. His Greek mother was a longtime Caledon resident. (Biblioasis, $22.95)

 The Secret Life of Doris Melnick

The Secret Life of Doris Melnick

by Gail Prussky

We all have secret fantasies that take up space in our heads. For Doris Melnick, a painfully shy FoodWorld cashier who lives alone and exists on a diet of hard-boiled eggs and baked beans, this statement is especially true. Anger and longing bubble up from the darkest corners of her brain until they become a deafening cacophony. Her only remedy is to release them onto the page in the form of drawings. The people she meets throughout the day become images of the grotesque. Eyes, rarely looking in the same direction, bulge from misshapen heads. Horns and pustules and insects erupt from lumpy skin. Even Duane, the produce manager with a gift for stacking turnips and the object of Doris’s secret longing, receives a tail of hair-tufted skin protruding from the top of his head.

A masterpiece of imagination, The Secret Life of Doris Melnick provides a roar of recognition for the lonely and outcast among us.

Gail Prussky worked as an addiction therapist at the Donwood Institute in Toronto. She now lives in Mono. (Exile Editions, $26.95)

Blue Is Bigger Than Brown  Peggy Lees Delicious Lips.

Blue Is Bigger Than Brown + Peggy Lee’s Delicious Lips

by Harry Posner

Harry Posner’s latest collection of poems is a welcome blast to the psyche. Blue Is Bigger Than Brown bashes at the eyes-sealed-shut mindset of screen culture and the hypocrisy of, well, pretty much everything. Modern life gets ripped with language that trips and skips like fusion jazz rendered onto the page. You may find yourself wondering, as Posner does in his tribute to Allen Ginsberg, “Where is our Howl?” (Harry Posner, $14.95)

Peggy Lee’s Delicious Lips, previously published under the title Malware, has found a home with Quattro Books. The novel features Percy Barnum Thurman, a man torn between his outer and inner lives, perpetually driving up an icy hill and dreading what lies on the other side. (Quattro Books, $20)

Harry Posner, Dufferin’s inaugural poet laureate, lives in Orangeville.

Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River

by Nancy Early illustrated by Kasia Charko

September 2020 was the bicentennial of the village of Alton, and to mark the occasion, Nancy Early and award-winning artist Kasia Charko teamed up to create a fun- and fact-filled celebratory book for kids. Early details the founding of the village and interesting moments in its history through a clever, prose-y poem, while Charko’s beautiful illustrations suit the tone of the book to perfection. A map at the end of the book pinpoints Alton’s historic buildings, and to engage the reader even further, there’s also a scavenger hunt. Solve the clues, find the right destinations and collect cool giveaways. Ideal for a family day out! (Nancy Early, $20)

Raise Your Spirits 21 Cocktails in 21 Acts

Raise Your Spirits
21 Cocktails in 21 Acts

by David Nairn

During the long Covid siege of 2020, David Nairn, artistic director of Theatre Orangeville, sent out regular webcasts to raise spirits by making a cocktail. Now, with the help of Bernadette Hardaker, Sharyn Ayliffe and Nancy Frater, Nairn has created an entertaining how-to book for mixing your own fancy alcohol-based drinks. Each cocktail features the history of the drink, fun facts and a generous helping of humour. Quarantini, anyone?

All proceeds from the sale of Raise Your Spirits go to Theatre Orangeville programming. Copies are limited and can be purchased only at Theatre Orangeville and BookLore. (Theatre Orangeville, $20)

As I Was Saying

As I Was Saying

by Marion Frazer

Marion Frazer’s collection of poems is like a leisurely visit with a good friend. In spare, pared-down language, the conversation ranges from family and joyful pleasures to politics and grief. Each poem reaches out for meaningful connection and, in doing so, reminds us that when we share our experiences, joy expands and adversity becomes easier to bear.

Marion Frazer was showcased as Caledon Public Library’s writer of the month in April 2020. (FriesenPress, $20)

The Ryeport Redemption Trilogy

The Ryeport Redemption Trilogy

by Les Cribb

Roddy McDowd, vicar to a small fishing village in 18th-century England, finds himself caught up in the drama of a local smuggling ring. Murder and a deal with the devil produce consequences that span the centuries and, shockingly, tie-in to a present day murder in Canada.

Les Cribb originally published his novel under the title The Fo’c’sle Door. Since his death in 2016, his family has taken up his labour of love and repackaged the large novel into three consecutive books, hoping they will find a bigger audience. The Vicar’s Journal, Curse of the Seahorse and Death of the Sexton tell a complex tale of courage, friendship and murder, with a touch of the supernatural. (Hasmark Publishing International, $17.99 each)

The Black Cup

The Black Cup

by Alec Lavictoire

A child born with his heart outside his rib cage, a grieving father, a mysterious forest and a magical chalice come together in this dark fairy tale. The Black Cup twists and turns with surprises and betrayals to a satisfying conclusion.

Orangeville resident Alec Lavictoire also writes short stories that have been published in Fiction on the Web and CommuterLit. (INtense Publications, $19.99)

Shooting Stars A Wish for Healing and Togetherness

Shooting Stars
A Wish for Healing and Togetherness

by Pam Fanjoy illustrated by Ann Randeraad

The village children don’t understand why their school is closed and the playground shut down. Or why their parents are stressed out and sometimes crying. Something called the coronavirus is making people very sick. One little boy prays for shooting stars to come down from heaven and heal everyone. Will the village find a way to cope?

Hillsburgh’s Pam Fanjoy and Ann Randeraad of Laurel created Shooting Stars to help kids demystify the Covid-19 pandemic and find their courage in these anxious times. (Pam Fanjoy, $15)

Forty Unusual Drawings by Rudolf

by Rudolf Kurz

Bizarre, a collection of pencil drawings by Rudolf Kurz, certainly lives up to its title – in the best possible way. Mustachioed, martini-drinking babies perambulate through rabbit-rich fields in France. Snails act as aircraft for bird-like creatures in one scene, only to square off with tiny matadors in the next. Giraffes, with necks so long they tend to tangle, are topped by the heads of elegant women smoking cigarettes. Poodles and various other creatures arrive via mail order and are escaping!

Rudolf Kurz is also a painter and muralist. His previous books include An Illustrated Alphabet for the Illiterate and Looking for Snails on a Sunday Afternoon. The former Hockley resident now divides his time between East York and Muskoka. (Rudolf Kurz, $35)

Collingwood, the Blue Mountains & Beaver Valley Hikes Loops & Lattes Hiking Guide

Collingwood, the Blue Mountains & Beaver Valley Hikes
Loops & Lattes Hiking Guide

by Nicola Ross

Another year, another hiking guide! Nicola Ross heads north for the sixth instalment of Loops & Lattes, her popular hiking guides. The 35 routes in Collingwood, the Blue Mountains & Beaver Valley Hikes will challenge you to strap on your gear and head out to visit pretty vistas, spot native flora and fauna, learn some local history and discover post-hike hot spots for coffee and baked goods. Each loop is rated for length, difficulty and, particular to this guide, the total metres of elevation to be climbed. There’s even the site of a plane-crash to explore.

A longtime contributor to In The Hills, Nicola Ross is an environmental activist who lives in Caledon. Other titles in the series cover Caledon, Dufferin, Hamilton, Halton and Waterloo, Wellington and Guelph. (Woodrising Consulting, $27.95)

The 500 Hidden Secrets of Toronto

The 500 Hidden Secrets of Toronto

by Erin Fitzgibbon

The magic number is five. Inside this compact guidebook are lists and thumbnail descriptions of the five best places to visit, shop, eat and soak in some culture in Toronto and the GTA. How about the five most comprehensive art galleries that aren’t the AGO? Or the top five vinyl record stores? The five bakeries with the best butter tarts? Or the five best spa hotels, including Caledon’s own Millcroft Inn? Even the most Toronto-centric of Torontonians will find something fun and new to discover in the city. Guaranteed.

Photographer Erin Fitzgibbon is a regular contributor to In The Hills. She lives in Orangeville. (Luster, $30)


Kat in Harm’s Way + To Kill Kat

by Hugh Russel

Katrina Fernando is a young soldier who is serving her country during the Gulf War of 1990–91. On her first mission as an NCO, she’s assaulted and shot by a member of her own squad. After a miracle recovery she just wants to slow down and heal, but the higher-ups have other plans for her. Groomed to carry out high-stakes missions for the U.S. army’s counterintelligence agency, she finds herself caught in a web of international intrigue as she rockets toward the riveting conclusion that unfolds in, yes, Headwaters.

Mulmur resident Hugh Russel is a musician, painter and illustrator who is internationally known for his sculptures cast in bronze. Kat in Harm’s Way and To Kill Kat are the first two books in a four-book series. (Negative Space Publishing, $19.95 each)

The Jagged Circle

The Jagged Circle

by Shelley Peterson

Sixteen-year-old Evie is back in the saddle after a tumultuous few months. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as if life is going to get any easier. While out on a hack, she finds a young woman clinging to life on a snowy path. Although the police have warned Evie not to poke around in the investigation, her step-sister goes missing and she has no choice but to act. With the help of her grandmother and her half-brother, she’s determined to save the day.

The Jagged Circle, the second book in Shelley Peterson’s Jockey Girl series, is a fast-paced mystery that deals with complex issues of addiction and cult-like behaviour in teens.

Peterson is the bestselling author of the Jockey Girl and Saddle Creek series. She owns and operates a stable in Caledon. (Dundurn, $14.99)

Remember, It’s OK
Loss for Teens, Loss of a Parent, and Loss of a Partner

by Marina L. Reed and Marian Grace Boyd

Orangeville author Marina Reed and Toronto psychotherapist Marian Boyd have created three innovative books to help readers deal with, or support someone who is dealing with, loss. The pages of Loss for Teens, Loss of a Parent and Loss of a Partner are divided into six colours to indicate stages of grief. Within each coloured section are short segments written from the perspective of the grieving individual, followed by helpful replies for a companion and blank pages for recording reflections. All three titles are written with heartfelt compassion and are an invaluable resource. (Next Chapter Press, $24.95 each)

The Library Pet Parade

The Library Pet Parade

by Winston F. Uytenbogaart

Everyone line up for the pet parade! Rachel, an ardent reader, is excited when she learns the library is hosting a pet parade. Hoping to win a ribbon, she readies her cat, Tiger, for the big event.

In this charming picture book for children, Winston F. Uytenbogaart of Orangeville fondly recalls a story from his past. (Amaranth Press, $15)

After the War

After the War

by Wendy Appleton

In the memoir A Little Girl’s War, Wendy Appleton describes her life as a young child in Bexleyheath, England, during World War II. After the War picks up where A Little Girl’s War left off. The war may be over, but Wendy’s worries are not. Her parents are poor and struggle to feed seven children. As the years pass, she grows into an Elvis-loving teenager, finds work, dabbles in love and overcomes painful losses.

Melancthon resident Wendy Appleton brings post-war England to life in this lively memoir. (Wendy Appleton, $16.99)

A Woodpecker’s Tale

A Woodpecker’s Tale

by Sean Cassidy

Pierce is a young woodpecker ready to fly and find his own dinner. But Mama woodpecker isn’t so sure. Will Pierce find some juicy bugs? Or will his run-ins with a grumpy skunk, a spooked possum, an intimidating owl and a whole hive of angry bees foil his first solo flight?

Sean Cassidy is an award-winning Orangeville author and illustrator. His previous books include Good to Be Small, Wake Up, Henry Rooster! and Kazaak! Originally published in 2014, A Woodpecker’s Tale is now available in paperback. (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $12.95)

Paisley’s Pumpkin

Paisley’s Pumpkin

by Carolyn j Morris illustrated by Richard McNaughton

Young Paisley is delighted to find a pumpkin plant sprouting in the farm’s compost heap. Nurturing the seedling throughout the summer, she soon has an entire pumpkin patch. One of the pumpkins grows so big it might just win a ribbon at the fall fair!

Paisley’s Pumpkin is a wonderful addition to Carolyn j Morris’s series of children’s picture books about rural living. And as always, Richard McNaughton’s lovely watercolour illustrations bring the gentle stories to life.

Carolyn j Morris lives in Beeton, while Richard McNaughton lives in Grey County. (Railfence Books, 12.95)

An Ill Wind Blows

An Ill Wind Blows

by Nathaniel Watt

Learning how to solve sudoku puzzles is item number 19,999 on clinical psychologist Henry Little’s bucket list. In other words, he hates them. But when his lawyer friend goes missing and a gruesome murder is committed, one of the detestable puzzles provides the only clue to solving the case and saving the day.

An Ill Wind Blows is the first book in Nathaniel Watt’s humorous Sudoku Murder Mystery series. He lives in Mono. (Watt Books, $10.50)

Dead Without Shame  Drop Dead Cowboy

Dead Without Shame + Drop Dead Cowboy

by Diane Bator

Gilda is up to her neck in drama in Dead Without Shame, the fourth instalment of the Gilda Wright Mystery series. First, there’s a robbery and murder at Happy Harvey’s Hangover Hut. Then Gilda’s boyfriend, owner of the karate school where she works, is acting weird. And as if that weren’t enough, her mother arrives. Uninvited! It’s more than a black-belt-obsessed gal can handle.

In Drop Dead Cowboy, Audra Clemmings, operator of Stitch ’n’ Time, a small craft shop, is implicated in the murder of a cowboy who was found dead during the town’s Halloween festivities. The suspicious circumstances leave Audra no choice but to investigate. Drop Dead Cowboy is the first book in Bator’s Sugarwood Mysteries.

Orangeville’s Diane Bator is also the author of the Wild Blue and Glitter Bay Mysteries. (BWL Publishing, $12.95 each)

Responsible? Hell No!

Responsible? Hell No!

By Daniel Miklos Kolos

In 2014, Daniel Miklos Kolos’s life changed when he attended a one-day workshop with Dr. Gabor Maté, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. Maté’s theory – that addiction almost always stems from childhood trauma and the damage it does to the chemistry of developing brains – hit him like a thunderclap. Responsible? Hell No! is a guide to helping readers face the pain of their traumas and begin the work of healing.

Daniel Miklos Kolos, a former Egyptologist, is a certified personal coach and compassionate inquiry practitioner, certified by Maté himself. A longtime Headwaters resident, he now lives in Durham. (Balboa Press, $24.95)

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

by Tom Griffiths

Musician and world traveller Tom Griffiths is nuts. How else can you describe a man who enjoys cliff jumping at the Grand Canyon, swimming with giant bats in Ecuador, sleeping off a bender in a ditch in Jamaica and having his tent crushed by an elephant at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe?

Crazy travel stories abound in Griffiths’ It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time. He lives in Alton. (Tom Griffiths, $35)

About the Author More by Tracey Fockler

Tracey Fockler is a freelance writer who lives in Orangeville.

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