New Books and Featured Reading Lists

Each week on the 49th Shelf homepage, we highlight new releases. We also make theme-based lists and showcase lists from guest contributors and 49th Shelf members. This page archives these selections so they are always available to our members.

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New Fiction for the week of January 13th : New Fiction for January
Bury Your Horses
Excerpt

To a northerner’s eye, this corner of the Chihuahuan Desert looks desolate, like some vast empty lot forsaken and left to sprout weeds and scrub brush. If you look more closely, though, you’ll see it’s not barren. Here, too, the ageless struggle to survive continues. Gaze up into the faded blue sky and you’ll see a turkey vulture circling lazily with the patience of death itself. Down on the ground, lizards and rodents, scorpions and snakes scurry and slither in the unrelenting dance of hunter and prey. If you sit and wait patiently, which is not easy to do in the brain-baking heat of a spring afternoon, you might even see one of the larger denizens — a puma, or a mule deer — moving through this deceptively bleak environment, exploiting the niche Nature has afforded it.
There is a perfectly straight black line down the middle of the thorn scrub landscape, showing that the ultimate predator has also staked a claim. But although humans have been industrious enough to place a highway here, it seems at first they are not so foolish as to inhabit the place.
But then, as the asphalt shimmers in the sun, a lone figure crests the horizon. Riding a motorcycle that costs several times more than most inhabitants of this New Mexico county earn in a year, the man is racing at full throttle, achieving speeds approaching two hundred miles per hour. It’s unclear whether he is momentarily taking advantage of the straight and deserted stretch of highway to test the vehicle’s capabilities, or is really in such a hurry to get to the small border town at the end of the road. In either case, he is pushing both his own limits and the machine’s.
A desert box turtle begins crossing the highway. Having waited out the winter in hibernation, the creature has been coaxed it out of its burrow by the late-April warmth, and evidently it has business on the other side of the road. The creature is, by nature, in no hurry, and steadfastly crawls toward its goal. The rider of the motorcycle spots the reptile traversing the road, and for a few seconds it appears he is planning to run over the turtle, but at the last moment, he veers abruptly out of the way.
This is a mistake. At such high speed the rapid jerking movement interrupts the motorcycle’s gyroscopic stability and causes its rear to fishtail violently. The man fights desperately to steer his machine, and as he rides the thin edge between control and calamity, the adrenalin-soaked battle for balance feels very familiar. The motorcycle leaves the road. While this reduces the speed, it also makes any chance of control impossible as the machine bounces over the rough terrain. Separated from his bike, the rider becomes a projectile, passing through and obliterating two large yucca plants before landing in a patch of creosote bushes. He is fortunate to be alive, though he feels far from it as he lies on the ground, awash in pain.
“Fuck!” he screams. “You stupid asshole, Shane!”
Self-recrimination is nothing new for Shane, but since it is currently counterproductive, not to mention historically ineffective, he abandons the exercise and instead inventories his injuries. On top of sundry contusions and sprains, his left arm, he realizes, is broken.
With his operable hand, Shane removes his motorcycle helmet, then pulls the glove off his right hand using his teeth. Slowly, he struggles to his feet, but when he places weight on his right leg, the knee buckles and almost sends him back to the ground. He does a frantic little dance on his uninjured leg, his fractured arm dangling at his side, and manages to retain his balance.
It feels to him, from experience, that the kneecap has popped out. He looks around for his motorcycle, which is fifty yards away, lying on its side and still idling.
“This ought to be fun,” he mutters, and hops toward the machine. He is halfway there when his foot catches on something in the soft soil, and he trips. He twists in mid-air to ensure he doesn’t land on his broken arm, and with practised expertise keeps his head forward, allowing his back and shoulders to absorb the impact.
As he lies there, summoning up the energy to rise again, he notices there are now three buzzards circling overhead, gliding in and out of the sun’s glare. The scavengers’ presence actually causes him to laugh.
“How about that. Just like in the movies.” Not much of one for reading, Shane loves cinema — especially old Westerns — having devoured film after film during the extensive travel involved in his past profession.
He watches the lazy aerial display until its significance hits home, then he rolls over and struggles to stand up again. By now glistening with perspiration, he manages to hop over to the motorcycle without losing his balance this time.
Despite his injuries, his first priority is to turn off the idling engine and examine his bike. He’s obviously not in any condition to try to right the motorcycle and ride it, but he loves the Ducati nevertheless and regrets any damage it has sustained. He ascertains that, in fact, the motorcycle has fared far better in the accident than he has. Relieved, he turns his attention to the saddlebags.
“Shit. It figures.” Shane realizes that the motorcycle has landed on the side where his cellular phone was stowed. The easiest thing to do now is sit and wait for help, but based on the paucity of vehicles he has encountered on this particular highway, it could be a while before someone happens along.
He decides to try moving the motorcycle, reasoning that he need only raise the bike far enough to access the saddlebag underneath. He looks around for something to use as a lever, but the scrub brush of the Chihuahuan Desert offers no usable timber. Shane opts to use his head like a bull — an animal which, coincidentally, he has been compared to in the past. The best spot for leverage seems to be the seat, so he tries to get his head under it. Unable to achieve good purchase, he decides to make a hollow in the ground to allow for a better angle of leverage, and begins scooping out the soil with his good hand.
His digging dislodges a striped bark scorpion from its burrow. Unaware that this particular arachnid’s sting is almost never fatal, Shane lurches backward in a panicked reflex, jolting his fractured wrist. The pain — which had previously subsided to a tolerable throbbing — spikes beyond endurance, and he passes out.
When he regains consciousness, the scorpion has disappeared. He climbs to his feet and pats himself down with his one operable hand to make sure the creature has not crawled inside his clothes or some bodily crevice. Satisfied he is in no immediate danger of being stung, he is nevertheless reluctant to resume excavating. He looks around for something to use as a digging tool, cursing when the search proves futile.
The heat is oppressive, and Shane feels his face beginning to burn, so he picks up his motorcycle helmet, puts it on, and lowers the tinted visor against the glare. This reminds him of his resistance to using a visor in his former profession, and that remembrance makes him smile, despite his dire situation.
He looks down at his hole and pokes around with his boot to unearth any critters that might lie in wait. Even so, he has no desire to stick his hand or his head into the depression. Finally, he uses his teeth to pull on his glove, trusting the thick leather will protect him against scorpions, and cautiously resumes digging.
Nothing crawls out to disturb Shane’s excavation, and soon there is adequate space for him to get his bare head beneath the motorcycle seat. Removing his helmet, he pulls his broken arm against his belly, distributes his weight as evenly as possible, and — emitting a grunt — lifts with his head and shoulders.
He is elated to feel the motorcycle lifting, but it is evident that he will only be able to raise the bike a foot or so. Still, he can see that the flap of the trapped saddlebag is now clear of the ground. Straining to support the weight, he uses the elbow of his injured arm to shove his discarded helmet underneath the vehicle’s frame before relinquishing the weight and exhaling with a loud whoosh.
“Woo-hoo! You the man, Shane,” he hollers, permitting himself a little horizontal victory dance. Pivoting onto his good shoulder, he reaches underneath to unfasten the flap of the saddlebag and fishes through his belongings, retrieving the cellphone by touch alone.
When he looks down at the phone’s screen, he realizes there is no signal in this remote place. All his effort has been for nothing. He erupts in a scream of rage, but manages to refrain from hurling the offending phone into the scrub brush — no small feat, for Shane’s rage-filled attacks on inanimate objects are well documented. Instead, he covers his face with his good hand and begins to sob.

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A Strange Kind of Comfort
Excerpt

Prologue

The chudesnytsia blends a tea of burdock root, raspberry leaves, and honey, then rests in her rocking chair by the wood stove while she sips. Usually the bitter brew eases the pain deep in her bones but today it does little to relieve her suffering. Instead, the pungent odour rising from the steam carries her off to a murky, twilight place where she drifts between wakefulness and dreams.

She is home again in the village at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, the beloved grandmother she left behind trudging slowly up the path to a whitewashed hut, clutching the hem of a crisp white apron. It droops like a hammock with the weight of a cabbage the size of a grown man’s head. And there is her mother, long dead, retching in agony as the SS Bulgaria rocks on an angry, endless sea. She sees herself, a small and frightened child wearing a grimy dress, woollen stockings sagging at the knees, peering up from a wooden bunk in the hull of the ship. She feels the crush of women’s rough skirts against her cheek as soiled babies howl and anxious women fret over their husbands’ decisions while waiting, waiting, at the port of Halifax for papers to be looked at and documents filed.

She wakes with a start to a muffled tapping she thinks might be the barn door, unhooked and flapping in the wind, or perhaps the child upstairs, not yet asleep, bumping her feet against the wall. As she comes fully awake she realizes it is someone knocking at her door. She hoists herself up, shuffles over, and opens it to find on her stoop a young, round-shouldered woman holding the hand of a child. The boy is thin and pale, with hair the colour of acorns and haunted brown eyes she senses he is afraid to close at night. The woman’s face, too, bears the strain of sleepless nights. She takes a step forward as a lone wolf howls in the distant hills, a keening cry that startles the boy. “I was told you could help my child.” She falters over the Ukrainian words and the chudesnytsia thinks for a moment how like her own daughter this young woman is, the words so unforgiving on her tongue.

The chudesnytsia ushers them in and gestures to the table, inviting them to sit. The boy looks around the room with wary eyes, taking in the small jars of garnet-coloured jam lined up on the cupboard, the wooden print of the Last Supper hanging on the wall, the flickering candle on a small side table.

“It’s a’right. You tell to me in English. What it is wrong with this little one?”

The young woman seems relieved she does not have to struggle to explain her son’s condition and she speaks slowly, taking care with each word. “He doesn’t sleep. He can’t go a night without waking, screaming out for me. I rush in to his room and he is so scared he can’t stop shaking, yet when I ask, he says he doesn’t know what scares him.”

In hushed tones, the old woman probes, wanting to know if the boy had been ill before the nightmares began. Had anyone died? A grandparent? A beloved dog? Had he been frightened by something? The boy’s mother tells her how difficult these last months have been, lights blazing in every room throughout the night, the sheets tangled at the foot of his bed. The child has begged his mother not to leave him and cries when she does. The old woman nods, trying to make sense of it. She is familiar with such cases and has had success in the past. A cleansing read with her wax and holy water to determine the source of his buried fear together with a tincture from her wildflowers, berries, or bark should rid the child of whatever torments him.

The boy drifts to the small table with the sputtering candle and fingers a linen cloth, embellished with red and black cross-stitch, draped across a holy icon of the Virgin Mary. The boy leans in, as though for a closer look, and, with a gentle puff, blows out the candle.

“Oh,” his mother says, bringing one hand to her mouth, “I told you not to touch anything.”

“It’s a’right,” the old woman says. “We light again.” She picks up the candle and a small wicker basket from the floor next to the table and holds it out to the boy. “You help me to carry?”

In the basket are a black-rimmed white enamel cup and bowl, a packet of matches, a smooth-edged knife, a small vial of water, and a lump of amber-coloured wax. The boy carries the basket, gently, as though it holds eggs he might break, and places it on the table. From a pail next to the sink, the old woman scoops a dipper of water, hand-drawn from her well, and fills the bowl.

“I ready. We start,” she says, cupping the boy’s chin with her right hand. The sign of Jesus had appeared on the morning of her sixteenth birthday. She had awakened to find three crosses on her palm, pulsing brilliantly red, as though they had been carved there with a pocket knife during the night. Her mother took their appearance as a sign her daughter was ready to learn the incantations for cleansing and healing that she had learned from her own mother — the same rituals handed down through generations of women in her family and brought with them to Canada. The crosses are barely visible now and she wonders if her power has diminished with them, but she reminds herself the healing comes from God’s grace and the unwavering faith of those who come.

“Do you believe?” She must ask the question, but she knows the boy is too young. What does a child of six know of faith or God? He says nothing and averts his gaze so she turns to his mother, whose eyes brim with hope. “And you. Do you believe?” The young woman nods, although the look in her eyes is wary, as though she has come not because she truly believes in the power of the Holy Spirit but out of a deep and troubling desperation. The old woman shifts the boy’s chair, scraping it across the wooden floor, and arranges herself in front of him, facing east to harness the power of the rising sun as the ritual demands, although night has almost fallen. A sudden, heavy rain begins to thrum against the roof as she lights the candle and places a lump of beeswax in the enamel cup. Holding the cup over the candle, she adds a single clove of garlic and a few drops of holy water to the bowl. The scent of the melting wax brings to mind golden honey dripping from a comb and the hum of a hundred buzzing bees.

Vo im’ia Otsa, I Syna, I Sviatoho dukha, amin.In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three times she makes the sign of the cross, preparing herself to receive God’s grace. A whisper of doubt troubles her mind and she steels herself against it, grasping the knife in her left hand. She picks up the bowl and holds it over the boy’s head. He glances up at her and she senses his misgivings, too, but she closes her eyes and begins the ancient Ukrainian incantation. “I take to the head, to the blood, to all the joints, to adjure, to summon this fear of fears; From the north and from the south, I summon you with God’s lips, with God’s words; And the sister-stars …”

The sacred words spill easily from her lips. The power of the Trinity is within her — she feels it pulse with each pounding beat of her heart. The knife glints in the candlelight as she thrusts it toward the heavens, slicing the air and casting out the child’s fear with the same swift strokes she uses when scraping the skin of a butchered hog.

She continues to chant in her mother tongue. “I release you beyond the mountains, beyond the seas … disappear and vanish. I release you where people do not walk, where roosters do not crow, where the wind does not blow. Be gone! May you be buried and disappear.

“Chrevonu krov ne pyi, bile kilo ne sushy, zhovtu kist ne lupai.”
Do not drink red blood, dehydrate a white body, or strip a yellow bone.

The knife clatters to the table as she reaches for the melted wax. The candle flame barely flickers as she pours the thick wax and watches it move like something alive across the surface of the water, spreading until it blooms into shapes she must read. After a few moments, the shapes reveal themselves. Flames. Little greedy tongues of fire. Easy enough to see. But what confounds her is the tendril curling up and away from the heart of the blaze, stretching up toward the ceiling, unlike anything she has ever seen. Neither smoke nor flame, but separate. A tether, she senses, connecting the child to her in some way, to an event yet to happen in the distant future.

There is a sudden loud thump from upstairs and the boy and his mother look up, startled by the sound. The girl has fallen out of bed, the chudesnytsia thinks, and is about to explain the presence of someone else in the house when she notices the boy. His brow is smooth, his eyes clear, free of anguish, as he gazes up at the ceiling, restored.

 

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Borderline

Borderline

edition:Paperback
tagged : literary
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There's A Murder Afoot

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A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery
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Obsidian

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A DreadfulWater Mystery
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New Non-Fiction for the week of January 6th : New Self-Help:
My Year of Living Spiritually 

My Year of Living Spiritually 

From Woo-Woo to Wonderful--One Woman's Secular Quest for a More Soulful Life
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Find Your Pleasure

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The Art of Living a More Joyful Life
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The Jackass Whisperer

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Let That Sh*t Go

Let That Sh*t Go

Find Peace of Mind and Happiness in Your Everyday
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The Achiever Fever Cure

The Achiever Fever Cure

How I Learned to Stop Striving Myself Crazy
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Smarter Next Year

Smarter Next Year

The Revolutionary Science for a Smarter, Happier You
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Buddha's Bedroom

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The Mindful Loving Path to Sexual Passion and Lifelong Intimacy
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Putting Your Affairs in Order

Putting Your Affairs in Order

A leave-behind guide for your loved ones
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Belong

Belong

Find Your People, Create Community, and Live a More Connected Life
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New Children's for the week of December 9th : New on Kids' Nonfiction
The Girl Who Rode a Shark

The Girl Who Rode a Shark

And Other Stories of Daring Women
by Ailsa Ross
illustrated by Amy Blackwell
edition:Hardcover
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How Emily Saved the Bridge

How Emily Saved the Bridge

The Story of Emily Warren Roebling and the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge
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I Am a Feminist

I Am a Feminist

Claiming the F-Word in Turbulent Times
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Why Don't Cars Run on Apple Juice?

Why Don't Cars Run on Apple Juice?

Real Science Questions from Real Kids
by Kira Vermond
illustrated by Suharu Ogawa
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Moon Mission

Moon Mission

The Epic 400-Year Journey to Apollo 11
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What the Eagle Sees

What the Eagle Sees

Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal
edition:Paperback
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My House is a Lighthouse

My House is a Lighthouse

Stories of Lighthouses and Their Keepers
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New Non-Fiction for the week of December 2nd : New Books on Music
The Awesome Music Project Canada

The Awesome Music Project Canada

Songs of Hope and Happiness
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Buffy Sainte-Marie

Buffy Sainte-Marie

The Authorized Biography
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Heart of All Music, The

Heart of All Music, The

Poems About Music and Musicians
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Jan in 35 Pieces
Excerpt

From "One: Arlequin"

1942

Down London's Baker Street, Jan and his mother, Elf, pick their way around shards of glass and pieces of masonry on their way to Jan's cello lesson. As they pass Madame Tussaud's, Jan notices that a landmark building has disappeared; the skyline beyond Marylebone Road looks different. Instead of the building, there's a gap through which Jan can see a cluster of barrage balloons like giant ears, straining on their ropes.

He walks with his mother in silence. London is often quiet after a bombing. Petrol is rationed and there is little traffic apart from the double-decker buses. They always catch the six a.m. workers' bus from home-the village of Radnage-to High Wycombe. Jan sits with Elf and looks out the window. If his father, Colin, takes him, they sit upstairs where smoking is allowed; the fumes of Woodbines always make Jan's eyes smart. He follows Elf out of the bus and onto the platform, past the poster of a ship sinking under the words "Walls Have Ears", past the old, red machine on the railway platform that reminds Jan of a tomb standing in mute testimony to those golden days of pre-war Rowntrees Chocolate Bar sixpence, then into the 7:15 train from High Wycombe to Marylebone: "Please shew your ticket".

Then they arrive in London and search for breakfast. Jan always makes a game of seeing which café in the district cooks the best dried [powdered] egg. Lyons Corner House is the preferred eatery with their scrambled egg on toast. Once the cashier is paid, Elf and Jan continue on the journey, passing the Royal Academy of Music and turning down Nottingham Place.

Now after Baker Street's gaps and shards of glass, this street is untouched-the same dreary row of townhouses, except the metal railings which used to guide you to their black front doors have been removed to be turned into guns. Jan knocks on 34-the London Cello School.

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The Never-Ending Present

The Never-Ending Present

The Story of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip
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Everything Remains Raw

Everything Remains Raw

Photographing Toronto's Hip Hop Culture from Analogue to Digital
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Live at The Cellar

Live at The Cellar

Vancouver’s Iconic Jazz Club and the Canadian Co-operative Jazz Scene in the 1950s and ‘60s
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They Shot, He Scored

They Shot, He Scored

The Life and Music of Eldon Rathburn
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Listen Up!

Listen Up!

Recording Music with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, U2, R.E.M., The Tragically Hip, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Waits...
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