The Recommend: April 2014

tagged : The Recommend

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 run this series, The Recommend, where readers, writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.

This week we're pleased to present the picks of multimedia artist and author Vivek Shraya; Vancouver librarian and lit fest organizer, Heidi Schiller; Laurie Grassi, Books Editor at Chatelaine; Dee Hopkins, editor and lit blogger extraordinaire; and Carrie Snyder, author and finalist for the 2012 Governor General's Award for Fiction. See our recommenders' bios below their picks for more of their books.



Vivek Shraya picks Andrew Kaufman's All My Friends Are Superheroes: "This is a truly special book, a treasure in Canadian literature. A love story with a fantastical spirit, it features characters with whimsical names such as 'The Perfectionist,' 'Hypno,' and 'TV Girl.' In a culture that often glorifies length, All My Friends Are Superheroes serves as reminder that a powerful and lasting impact can be created with sincerity and brevity. Also, it is packaged with the perfect cover."

[Ed: Original cover image is to right; we have tenth anniversary edition cover in the database.]

Vivek Shraya is a Toronto-based multimedia artist. Winner of the We Are Listening International Singer/Songwriter Award, Vivek has released albums ranging from acoustic folk-rock to electro synth-pop. God Loves Hair, his first collection of short stories, was a 2011 Lambda Literary Award finalist. Vivek has performed and read at shows and festivals internationally, sharing the stage with Tegan and Sara, Dragonette, and Melissa Ferrick, and appearing at NXNE, CMW and Word on the Street. His first novel, She of the Mountains, will be published by Arsenal Pulp Press in Fall 2014. Vivek can be found on Twitter @vivekshraya.

Heidi Schiller picks Dina Del Bucchia’s Coping With Emotions and Otters: "Despite the fact that I’m not normally a poetry person, I love this book. It’s full of hilariously deadpan self-help advice poems that read like a warped version of Cosmo. In 'How to Be Ashamed,' Del Bucchia advises readers to 'Use public transportation to move small items to a new home. Tote expired dairy products, used toothbrushes, soiled rags, useless lint roller. Make multiple trips to expose your meagre life to as many strangers as possible.' There are even Sad Libs! 

I love the way her poems have this interesting mix of irony and earnestness, especially in the 'Celebrity Otters at the Vancouver Aquarium' section, which features an US Weekly-inspired poem about how Otters are just like us!

If you want to laugh and cry and feel uncomfortably able to relate to a lot of poems about uncomfortable human emotions, read this book."

Heidi Schiller is a librarian at the North Vancouver City Library, as well as an organizing member of the Real Vancouver Writers Series. As part of her library work, she organizes the North Shore Writers Festival and sits on the British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) Board, as well as the BCLA Readers’ Advisory Interest Group. You can find her on Twitter @HeidiKSchiller or at

Laurie Grassi picks Helen Humphreys' Afterimage: "I've long admired the way Humphreys manages to convey so much emotion in such a understated fashion in her novels, and Afterimage is no exception. It's the story of a maid who, in 1865, goes to work at the country house of a mapmaker, who yearns to become an Arctic explorer, and his unconventional wife, a photographer. Seduced by her own desires, the maid soon falls under the spell of her employers as they each use her to bring their imaginings to life. A masterpiece of imagery, Afterimage was inspired by the work of British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron."

Laurie Grassi is the Books Editor at Chatelaine magazine and leads Chatelaine’s Book Club. A passionate supporter of books, authors, and reading, Laurie can be found on Twitter @ChatReads and @LaurieGrassi and at

Dee Hopkins picks Joan Thomas's Curiosity: A Love Story: "One of the many reasons I read fiction is to enhance my own understanding of the world through other people’s lives and points of view. That’s probably why I’m drawn to historical fiction such as Joan Thomas’s Curiosity: A Love Story. Set along the Jurassic Coast of England in the 19th century and based on the lives of Mary Anning and Sir Henry Thomas De la Beche, this novel explores big issues in a deeply personal way.

At the age of 12, Mary finds the fossilized remains of a gigantic sea creature. Over the course of her life she is instrumental in discovering and identifying fossilized skeletons of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and more. Because she is working class and a woman, Mary is constantly discounted, her ideas and findings credited to other, male, colleagues. And yet she presses on, changing society’s fundamental understanding of the world in a matter of decades.

Thomas juxtaposes lower class, female Mary with Sir Henry, a gentleman from a wealthy family of slave owners. Their impossible love affair, fuelled by their shared passion for discovery, gives the narrative a tragic, urgent feel, and illustrates Thomas’s themes of class struggle, women’s rights, and religion versus science. Imagine life two hundred years ago, when an earlier version of a much-older earth, very different from our own, was a new-formed idea. Imagine when the theory of evolution and the existence of dinosaurs weren’t basic concepts grasped by schoolchildren.

Both a beautifully written romance and a complex history lesson, Curiosity reminds us how far we’ve come, and how much we still have to push and question the world around us."

Dee Hopkins is a prairie-born, Toronto-based book editor and winner of the Rosemary Shipton Award for Excellence in Book Editing. She’s edited pro wrestling histories, writing guides, Buddhist tracts, and sweeping romances, and she narrates audiobooks for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Dee has written for Chatelaine and Collective Consciousness. Find her book reviews, author interviews, and literary event recaps at EditorialEyes Book Blog. She's on Twitter @dh_editorial

Carrie Snyder picks The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larson by Susin Nielsen: "I borrow a lot of children's books from the library to feed my children's enormous appetites for reading. I try to choose a variety of books to entice their different interests and ages and reading abilities. My 12-year-old son tends to enjoy non-fiction, and still prefers easy reads like graphic novels; my 11-year-old daughter reads widely, but has only recently become interested in books with 'real' characters and more mature themes; my 8-year-old daughter likes many of the same books that her older brother enjoys, plus she's drawn to the girlier themes and covers; and my 6-year-old son currently loves reading books with simple vocabulary to me.

But I also choose books that don't fit into any of the above categories, and The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larson was one of those. I saw that it had won a Governor-General's Award for children's literature, but I wasn't exactly sure who this book would appeal to, and in fact, no one spontaneously picked it out of the library basket that I keep in the living-room. I grabbed it at random to take to a soccer game as entertainment for my eldest daughter—mostly because I was pretty sure she hadn't read it, and it's hard to find books she hasn't read around our house.

She devoured it. She simply couldn't put the book down, and when I saw that it had had a strong emotional effect on her, I decided to read it immediately afterward—in fact, that very same night—and it had the same effect on me. I couldn't put it down, and I wanted to talk to someone about it. It's the kind of book that simply must be shared. My eldest son has since read it too, despite being certain he wouldn't like it (he liked it a lot). I ran right out and got Ms. Nielsen's other books for young adults and we all tore through those, too (Word Nerd, and Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom).

Susin Nielsen has a gift for creating authentic adolescent voices, and for writing in completely non-cheesy ways about the transformative power of community.A warning: the book is not meant for the younger reader, and it should be read with a parent on hand to discuss the issues raised (and there is some violence its subject is bullying in the extreme). But don't think of this as an "issue" book. Yes, Nielsen confronts a serious topic, but she does it in a way that appears effortless: the book is funny and heartwarming and heartbreaking and fast-paced. Read it, no matter how old you are!"

Carrie Snyder is the author of two story collections, including The Juliet Stories, which was a finalist for Canada’s 2012 Governor General’s Award for Fiction. Her debut novel, Girl Runner, will be published in Canada in 2014, and in the United States and the UK in 2015; foreign rights have sold in eight additional territories. Her first book for children will be published by Owlkids in 2015. Carrie is a lecturer at the University of Waterloo,a dedicated recreational athlete, the mother of four children, and the author of the literary blog Obscure CanLit Mama. She can be found on Twitter @carrieasnyder.


See The Recommend featuring the picks of Trevor Cole, Farzana Doctor, Cory Doctorow, and Mark Leslie Lefebvre here.

See The Recommend featuring the picks of Ali Bryan, Steven Galloway, Jowita Bydlowska, Eliza Robertson and Cathy Marie Buchanan here.

See The Recommend featuring the picks of Trena White, Trevor Corkum, Missy Marston, JC Sutcliffe, and Alexis Kienlen here.

See The Recommend featuring the picks of Karen Connelly, Katherine Govier, Madeleine Thien, and Gillian Jerome, here.

April 9, 2014
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