The Recommend: February 2014 #2

Research shows that most of the books we read are the result of one thing: someone we know, trust, and/or admire tells us it's great. That's why we're starting our new series, The Recommend. Every two weeks, we'll reach out to people—readers, writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others—whose taste we respect and ask them to tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.

This week we're pleased to present the picks of Ali Bryan, author of Roost; Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo; Eliza Robertson, author of the Journey-Prize nominated short story, "My Sister Sang"; Jowita Bydlowska, author of Drunk Mom; and Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of The Painted Girls.

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Ali Bryan picks Nicole Dixon’s High-Water Mark: "This short story collection is a quick, sensuous read that will simultaneously stroke your hair and slap you in the face. Dixon’s female characters, much like her writing style, are stripped down, raw, and real. She writes with a refreshing feminist bent and has a knack for capturing the raunchy and intimate with an honesty and grit reminiscent of Lena Dunham’s Girls. I was left with a hot face on more than one occasion, yet her stories are also infused with moments of tenderness, grief, and conflict that are palpable. The kind of details that resonate weeks after the read. I can still smell and feel the tiny butter yellow toque that belonged to the dead infant from the collection’s title story. Strong settings—both rural and urban—are also one of Dixon’s trademarks. Ultimately High-Water Mark was a bit like reliving my twenties—noisy, intense, and colourful—minus the Kraft Dinner and the walk of shame."

Ali Bryan is a personal trainer who grew up in New Brunswick. A finalist in the 2010 CBC Canada Writes literary contest for her essay "Asshole Homemaker," Ali lives in Calgary with her husband and three children. The National Post called Roost, her first novel, "hilarious," and Todd Babiak (Come Barbarians) found it "marvelous, terrible fun."

Steven Galloway picks Nancy Lee's The Age (out any day): "This is a terrific read, tense and riveting, and its subject is one you don't often see in Canadian books. It's got a wonderful post-apocalyptic thread that is both frightening and deeply human. Lee is an extraordinary writer."

Steven Galloway is a BC-based author whose first two novels, Finnie Walsh and Ascension, were critically acclaimed and whose third novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo, has become an international bestseller, sold in 20 countries. His next book is The Confabulist, due out in April. You can find him on Twitter at @CptLinkHogthrob.

Eliza Robertson picks Rebecca Lee's Bobcat: "This book made me want to set my novel at a university in the eighties, or an architecture retreat in Wisconsin. Or maybe it made me want to be a university student in the eighties/young architect in Wisconsin. I haven’t had enough time to read lately, so I have come to treat books as night caps—a wee dram before bed. Well Bobcat had me binge-reading until two or three in the morning. Every word is exactly where it should be, the dialogue pert, the characters so honest and flawed. I wanted an invite to the dinner in the title story. To eat trifle in Manhattan. Or milk a cow. Or collect fish heads for the pigs’ slop bucket. That’s how good this book is. I wanted to climb inside it."

Eliza Robertson was born in Vancouver and studied creative writing at the University of Victoria. She pursued her MA in Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia, where she received the Man Booker Scholarship and the Curtis Brown Prize for best writer. In 2013, she won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and was a finalist for the Journey Prize and the CBC Short Story Prize. Her debut story collection, Wallflowers, will be published later this year. You can find her on Twitter at @ElizaRoberts0n.

Jowita Bydlowska picks Russell Smith's Girl Crazy: "This is a book about danger and about a boy who becomes a man. It is a story of all-night poker games, pit bulls, and bleak parking lots. It is also a love story of two people from the opposite side of the proverbial tracks: a repressed teacher obsessed with a complicated young woman who takes her clothes off for living. The biggest payoff lies with the main character, Justin, whose metamorphosis is unlike anything else you might read in Canadian fiction. The economical yet masterful language will grip you gently by your throat and not let go until you're finished reading. The writing will make you see the story as if it were on a movie screen; it make you feel, hard.

Jowita Bydlowska was born in Warsaw, Poland, and moved to Woodstock, Ontario, as a teenager. Her work has appeared in an assortment of magazines, newspapers and online publications, including Salon and The Huffington Post. Her bestselling first book. Drunk Mom, was, as The Globe and Mail put it, one of the most talked about books of the season." You can find her on Twitter at @JowitaBydlowska.

a tale for the time being

Cathy Marie Buchanan picks Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being: "A Tale for the Time Being masterfully tells the stories of a writer named Ruth and a sixteen-year-old Japanese girl Nao whose diary Ruth finds inside a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on a BC beach. As she reads the diary, she becomes deeply sucked into the mystery of what has become of Nao. The novel is a fascinating meditation on the relationship between reader and writer, the ways in which one reaches across time and space to the other. A beautiful book."

Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Painted Girls was a #1 national bestseller in Canada and a New York Times bestseller, among its other achievements. Her debut novel, The Day the Falls Stood Still, was also a New York Times bestseller. Born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Cathy now lives in Toronto. You can find her on Twitter at @CathyMBuchanan.

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Please see Ep. 1 of The Recommend for more great reading suggestions!

February 19, 2014
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