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 the reason for this series, The Recommend. Every month, we 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 Steve Stanton, author and president of Canada's national association of science fiction and fantasy authors; Diana Fitzgerald Bryden, author, most recently, of No Place Strange; Barbara McVeigh, teacher-librarian with the Peel District School Board; Charlotte Ashley, writer, editor, and bookseller; and Lynne Perednia, Washington State-based middle school librarian.
Steve Stanton picks Douglas Smith's The Wolf at the End of the World: "This is an excellent debut novel by Douglas Smith, a fantasy about shapeshifters and sentient animals in an Ontario native community. Modern controversy over aboriginal land claims is mixed with a romantic embellishment of ancient stories transmitted orally through the ages by a culture with no written language. The author, noted as a short-story specialist, uses staccato pacing and multiple POV with a hook at the end of each short segment to keep the energy level perpetually high.
Smith freely admits in a lengthy afterword that his recreation of native spirituality is not meant to be definitive. The ancient oral myths were never codified into anything resembling religious doctrine in the absence of literary documentation. The recurring characters (trickster, wise guardian, creator spirit, etc.) were given different roles according to the context of the tale and the needs of the storyteller, but most embody a pervading sentiment of love for tribe and family and respect for the natural order. In this sense, Smith continues a proud tradition."
Diana Fitzgerald Bryden picks ... a few: "Almost as soon as I finished reading Kenneth J. Harvey’s Inside I wrote him a fan letter. The book is a tour de force, a brilliant psychological portrait of Myrden, a man whose wrongful conviction is finally overturned. But Myrden is doomed from the moment he’s set free. Disasters accumulate and compound one another with excruciating inevitability, like a multi-vehicle pile-up in whiteout conditions.
I’m not sure why the book spoke to me as strongly as it did— its beautiful minimalism, perhaps. Also something to do with Harvey’s subtle insistence on shades of grey. I couldn’t get over how taut and fierce the book was, and how tender.
A few years after Inside I read Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist. Coady’s sensibility and style are entirely her own—she’s hilarious, for one thing—but Inside and The Antagonist share a queasy momentum and an undertow of violence. Both get inside the head of the kind of man a lot of people dismiss or just don't want to know.
Rank, Coady’s Antagonist, is a hockey enforcer whose former schoolmate uses him as a character in a novel; outraged, Rank bombards his ex-friend with an e-mail campaign that soon borders on harassment. As he lets loose his one-sided correspondence we’re drawn into his inner life. His relationship with his father rings so painfully true it’ll make you wince (and, Coady being Coady, laugh).
And please, book-lovers, read Helium, by Jaspreet Singh, which—excuse the corny pun—took my breath away. Its characters have survived terrible trauma, but go on living in as ordinary way as possible, as people must. As a boy, the narrator saw his favourite teacher killed in the state-sanctioned massacre of Sikhs that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Now an adult, he goes back to examine the past and it almost ruins him.
Lastly, Ayelet Tsabari’s short story collection, The Best Place on Earth. I’m a grudging short story reader—if I like a short story I’d just as soon it were a novel—but I’m learning that the best short stories don’t need expanding. Set in Israel and Canada, in language both lush and plainspoken, these stories drew me in and held me tight."
Diana Fitzgerald Bryden's novel, No Place Strange, was short-listed for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and long-listed for the IMPAC Dublin Award. She has two books of poetry, Learning Russian, short-listed for the Pat Lowther Award, and Clinic Day. She is working on a second novel, Tunapuna, and a memoir, The Impostors, and most recently her essay "Dog Days" appears in The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, edited by Kerry Clare.
Barbara McVeigh picks Tanis Rideout's Above All Things: "When I’m asked to recommend a book, it’s usually for historical fiction or adventure. Both sides also want a read that’s literary. Above All Things by Tanis Rideout fits the bill on all accounts. The plot alternates between George Mallory’s 1924 climb of Mt. Everest and a single day in the life of his wife, Ruth, while she waits for him to return.
I debated between reading the novel versus a nonfiction report of the climb since I was worried that Above All Things would be too mushy. I needn’t have worried. Above All Things conveys the tension between the grand adventure of being the first to climb the world’s tallest mountain and the concerns of home without being sentimental.
What really makes this book exceptional is its ability to articulate the time period through a poet’s use of language. What happened to Mallory? Fiction can reveal more than the facts. There is something compelling about mystery and wanting to discover the truth—witness our present obsession with the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370."
Barbara McVeigh is a teacher-librarian with the Peel District School Board. She is a firm believer in digital literacy and the power of story. She tweets as @barbaramcveigh on topics including education technology, great reads, and cycling.
Charlotte Ashley picks Roy MacSkimming's The Perilous Trade: Book Publishing in Canada, 1946—2006: "The Perilous Trade is now ten years old (with an updated paperback published in 2007) and it hasn't aged a day. MacSkimming's analysis of Canada's publishing industry is as relevant today as it was then—we're still feeling backlash from the demise of General Distribution Services in 2002—and the history just as important.
But it is the anecdotes MacSkimming has collected that make this a really special book, a warm and personable page-turner. MacSkimming paints a family portrait of Canada's publishing stalwarts, with its matriarchs and patriarchs, black sheep and rebels, grudges and reconciliations.MacSkimming succeeds in making the reader feel like a piece of Canada's literary legacy, another kissing cousin in the occasionally dysfunctional family that is CanLit."
Lynne Perednia picks Gale Zoe Garnett's Visible Amazement: "When I first read Visible Amazement, Gale Zoe Garnett's debut novel, more than a dozen years ago, it was a sweet, funny, heartfelt and, when you least expected it, deeply affecting story. Fourteen-year-old Roanne strikes out on her own after making a most unfortunate discovery about her mother. On the road and on a journey of the heart, Ro meets Didi, a dear man with a heart far larger than his body and a friend for the ages, a damaged girl named Gilbey. Roanne learns how deep love can be and how wide and wonderful the world can be, even when the punches to the gut come along. Reading it again now, I see the fairy tale aspects that reinforce the wonder of Roanne's discoveries and am even more impressed.
Full disclosure: I met Zoe online while she was finishing this novel and found out she has an even greater spirit and capacity for love than her heroine She is my son's honorary Auntie Zoe and one of the wisest people I will ever know. "
Lynne Perednia technically lives in Washington State, although her McCrae kin eventually got there after moving across Canada in the early 20th century. She is a middle school librarian and sysop for CompuServe's Books and Writers Community, and former newspaper editor. She is on Twitter @perednia.
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