A few years ago, 49th Shelf blew up the Internet with our amazing #ReadLocal map, a map that allows users to pin books to geographic locations. Avid Canadian readers leapt at the chance to connect their favourite reads with the actual settings where these stories take place, which was a lot of fun at the time but also a feature with lasting value. The appeal of reading where you are is not just simply a one-season affair. And now when you plan your summer vacation, you can plan place-appropriate reads along with your itinerary. Here are some of the highlights, from coast to coast.
If your summer vacation destination is Vancouver Island, check out The Woefield Poultry Collective, by Susan Juby.
About the book: Woefield Farm is a sprawling thirty acres of scrub land,complete with dilapidated buildings and one half-sheared,lonely sheep named Bertie. It’s "run"—in the loosest possible sense of the word—by Prudence Burns, an energetic,well-intentioned twenty-something New Yorker full of back-to-the-land ideals, but without an iota of related skills or experience. Prudence, who inherited the farm from her uncle, soon discovers that the bank is about to foreclose on Woefield Farm, which means that Prudence has to turn things around, fast. But fear not! She’ll be assisted by Earl, a spry seventy-something,banjo-playing foreman with a distrust of newfangled ideas and a substantial family secret; Seth, the alcoholic, celebrity-blogging boy-next-door, who hasn’t left the house since a scandal with his high-school drama teacher; and Sara Spratt,a highly organized eleven-year-old looking for a home for her prizewinning chickens, including one particularly randy fellow soon to be christened Alec Baldwin.
Heading to the Haida Gwaii? Bring along Silver Totem of Shame, by R.J. Harlick.
About the book: While visiting Vancouver, Meg Harris encounters the crime scene of a murdered Haida carver. She and her husband Eric are forced to confront Eric’s painful past when the young victim’s identity is discovered. The repercussions send them up the coast to the islands of Haida Gwaii, land of the Haida, in search of the murdered boy’s family and his killer. As the search progresses, a totem pole carver sets out to depict the ancient tale of a long-ago chief’s treasure and how it incited deception and shame. This tragedy reaches its nasty tentacles into the present where Meg and Eric find themselves embroiled in a modern-day story of betrayal.
A good read to tote along the BC Coast is Monkey Beach, by Eden Robinson.
About the book: Monkey Beach, Eden Robinson’s first novel, was nominated for Canada’s two largest literary prizes: the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award. The book was also published in Great Britain, the United States and Germany, and was a Canadian bestseller for many weeks. Monkey Beach is beautifully written, in prose that is simple and subtle, bold and vivid, and pervaded by humour.
Robinson fills her novel with details of Haisla culture and the rich wildlife surrounding Kitamaat. She uses traditional elements of storytelling—such as dreams, and people’s ties to nature—but also demystifies Native beliefs, simultaneously peeling away and intensifying the mystery surrounding spirits. Ancient rituals are shown as part of the reality of a modern Native community, along with Kraft Dinner and TV soaps and the legacy of residential schools. Robinson’s previous book of stories, Traplines, was remarked upon for being brutally honest, featuring rapists and drunks and drug dealers, psychopaths and sadists—proving to The New York Times that "Canadians are as weird and violent as anyone else." Monkey Beach is just as honest, but only hints at the darker elements. In the words of the author, "None of the characters are bad. They’re just reacting like anyone else to situations of loss and death."
If you're venturing into Banff National Park, you should pack The Book of Stanley, by Todd Babiak.
About the book: By all accounts, Stanley Moss is an average man. A retired florist, he lives quietly with his wife, Frieda, in a modest bungalow in Edmonton. Stricken with cancer, Stanley has few wishes for the time he has left, except perhaps for his son to call him back. But on the day of an appointment with the palliative care specialist, Stanley experiences a boom and a flash, and then, a remarkable transformation. He discovers he can read minds. He can fulfill people’s dreams. He has the strength of ten men. And, his illness has vanished. What could this mean? Could it be, as his New Age friend Alok believes, that Stanley’s powers are divine? Is Stanley, a confirmed agnostic, the new Messiah?
With Alok and a reluctant Frieda in tow, Stanley heads to Banff (the most sacred place on earth) to look for answers and find a way to use his new powers for good. He encounters there his disciples—a Vancouver TV executive, a pro hockey player from the Prairies and a teenage girl from suburban Montreal—and together they start The Stan, a new religion, and invite the world to join. When the world shows up, along with the international media and an angry long-dead spiritualist, things take an unexpected turn.
If you're heading further north into Jasper National Park, bring along the mystery, The Cardinal Divide, by Stephen Legault.
About the book: Cole Blackwater’s life isn’t what it used to be. Once a political superstar within Ottawa’s environmental movement, he now runs a nearly defunct conservation strategy consulting firm that distinctly lacks a paying client. His ex-wife loathes him for a scandalous affair that ended their marriage, he feels he’s failing his eight-year-old daughter as a father, and he’s turning far too often to the bottle to solve his problems.
When Peggy McSorlie, head of the Eastern Slopes Conservation Group, seeks his help to stop a mining project planned for Alberta’s magnificent Cardinal Divide, Blackwater jumps on the opportunity to earn enough money to pay the rent and buy a few pints at his favorite pub. But when Mike Barnes, head of the mining project, is brutally murdered and a radical member of Eastern Slopes is accused of killing him, Blackwater must first prove the man’s innocence in order to save his own business, and the future of the Cardinal Divide.
If you're holidaying in rural Saskatchewan, pack Mennonites Don't Dance, by Darcie Friesen Hossack.
About the book: This vibrant collection of short fictions explores how families work, how they are torn apart, and, in spite of differences and struggles, brought back together. Darcie Friesen Hossack's stories in Mennonites Don't Dance offer an honest, detailed look into the experiences of children—both young and adult—and their parents and grandparents, exploring generational ties, sins, penance and redemption.
Taking place primarily on the Canadian prairies, the families in these stories are confronted by the conflict between tradition and change - one story sees a daughterin- law's urban ideals push and pull against a mother's simple, rural ways, in another, a daughter raised in the Mennonite tradition tries to break free from her upbringing to escape to the city in search of a better life. Children learn the rules of farm life, and parents learn that their decisions, in spite of all good intentions, can carry dire consequences.
Another intriguing Saskatchewan read from the Read Local Map is Bone Coulee, by Larry Warwaruk.
About the book: As teenagers, in a drunken incident Mac Chorniak and his friends were responsible for the death of a young Indian man. Thanks to the prevailing prejudices of the 1950s, the boys received no punishment. Now the friends have grown old, and while most have settled into the routines, habits and politics of Duncan, their rural prairie town, Mac continues to live under the weight of guilt and regret. When Roseanna Desjarlais and her daughter Angela move to Duncan, and her son Glen works to reclaim land rights, old problems resurface and new intolerances are displayed among the town's establishment. And Duncan is unaware that Roseanna is the sister of the murdered youth, intending to exact revenge and make Mac pay.
Taking off on a road trip out of Winnipeg? Get your best inspiration from The Flying Troutmans, by Miriam Toews.
About the book: Days after being dumped by her boyfriend Marc in Paris—"he was heading off to an ashram and said we could communicate telepathically"—Hattie hears her sister Min has been checked into a psychiatric hospital, and finds herself flying back to Winnipeg to take care of Thebes and Logan, her niece and nephew. Not knowing what else to do, she loads the kids, a cooler, and a pile of CDs into their van and they set out on a road trip in search of the children's long-lost father, Cherkis.
In part because no one has any good idea where Cherkis is, the traveling matters more than the destination. On their wayward, eventful journey down to North Dakota and beyond, the Troutmans stay at scary motels, meet helpful hippies, and try to ignore the threatening noises coming from under the hood of their van. Eleven-year-old Thebes spends her time making huge novelty cheques with arts and crafts supplies in the back, and won't wash, no matter how wild and matted her purple hair gets; she forgot to pack any clothes. Four years older, Logan carves phrases like "Fear Yourself" into the dashboard, and repeatedly disappears in the middle of the night to play basketball; he's in love, he says, with New York Times columnist Deborah Solomon. Meanwhile, Min can't be reached at the hospital, and, more than once, Hattie calls Marc in tears.
But though it might seem like an escape from crisis into chaos, this journey is also desperately necessary, a chance for an accidental family to accept, understand or at least find their way through overwhelming times. From interwoven memories and scenes from the past, we learn much more about them: how Min got so sick, why Cherkis left home, why Hattie went to Paris, and what made Thebes and Logan who they are today.
A good literary pick for Northern Manitoba is The Setting Lake Sun, by J.R. Léveillé.
About the book: The Setting Lake Sun, J.R. Léveillé's first novel set in his native Manitoba, describes the unforgettable encounter of Angèle, an aspiring young Métis architect, with Ueno Takami, an older Japanese poet. The story begins when they meet at an art gallery in Winnipeg, a city surprisingly rich both physically, in its architecture, and culturally, with its mix of heritage and customs brought by people who have emigrated there from all over the world. From Winnipeg Angèle and Ueno head north through the wilds to Thompson. Narrated by Angèle, who is remembering her feelings of excitement, surprise and wonder at the discoveries inspired by the Japanese artist, The Setting Lake Sun is as much a love story as a spiritual journey, a celebration of life in all its incompleteness, imperfection, and impermanence.
If you're heading up north with intentions of a canoe trip, pack a copy of Late Nights on Air, by Elizabeth Hay.
About the book: Harry Boyd, a hard-bitten refugee from failure in Toronto television, has returned to a small radio station in the Canadian North. There, in Yellowknife, in the summer of 1975, he falls in love with a voice on air, though the real woman, Dido Paris, is both a surprise and even more than he imagined.
Dido and Harry are part of the cast of eccentric, utterly loveable characters, all transplants from elsewhere, who form an unlikely group at the station. Their loves and longings, their rivalries and entanglements, the stories of their pasts and what brought each of them to the North, form the centre. One summer, on a canoe trip four of them make into the Arctic wilderness (following in the steps of the legendary Englishman John Hornby, who, along with his small party, starved to death in the barrens in 1927), they find the balance of love shifting, much as the balance of power in the North is being changed by the proposed Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline, which threatens to displace Native people from their land.
Another novel from the Northwest Territories you might not have read yet is Porcupines and China Dolls, by Robert Alexie.
About the book: Enough alcohol silences the demons for a night; a gun and a single bullet silences demons forever. When a friend commits suicide and a former priest appears on television, the community is shattered. James and Jake confront their childhood abuse and break the silence to begin a journey of healing and rediscovery.
In Ontario, head to Algonquin Park with a copy of Matthew J. Trafford's collection, The Divinity Gene, which includes a story that is set there.
About the book: Recipient of the Honour of Distinction for the Dayne Ogilvie award, and long-listed for the Frank O'Connor Short Story Prize, the largest prize for a book of short stories worldwide, The Divinity Gene, is a beguiling and bizarre collection of stories from a remarkable new voice in Canadian fiction.
A mob of teens descends upon Paris in the thrall of a self-help author; a grotesque yard-sale statuette frees a dying man from his silence; the hottest club in town is staffed by angels.
Skewering urban culture even as it conjures up the magic in the mundane, the stories of The Divinity Gene map the frailty of the human heart. Caught in the crosshairs of faith and science, its characters—bereaved, sidelined, cast adrift—journey forth to the undiscovered places, in search of something to believe in, someone to love, always with disarming results. A passionately devout scientist clones Jesus Christ from the DNA contained in holy relics; a man makes a Faustian cyber deal with the devil for the sake of his family; bereaved parents sign on for an unorthodox government reparations project following a school tragedy. Masterfully original, deeply human, The Divinity Gene introduces a bold and evocative new writer.
A different kind of Algonquin Park read might be The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson, by George A. Walker.
About the book: In master engraver George A. Walker's newest work, the circumstances surrounding the death and disappearance of the iconic Canadian artist are explored through some one hundred and nine wood engravings, creating a work that eulogizes not only the artist himself, but the struggle of the artist's attempt to express himself while constrained by society, the reality of the moment, and mortality.
And an excellent Canadian cottage read is Dorothy Ellen Palmer's When Fenelon Falls, set in the heart of the Kawarthas.
About the book: A spaceship hurtles towards the moon, hippies gather at Woodstock, Charles Manson leads a cult into murder and a Kennedy drives off a Chappaquiddick dock: it's the summer of 1969. And as mankind takes its giant leap, Jordan May March, disabled bastard and genius, age fourteen, limps and schemes her way towards adulthood. Trapped at the March family's cottage, she spends her days memorizing Top 40 lists, avoiding her adoptive cousins, catching frogs and plotting to save Yogi, the bullied, buttertart-eating bear caged at the top of March Road. In her diary, reworking the scant facts of her adoption, Jordan visions and revisions a hundred different scenarios for her conception on that night in 1954 when Hurricane Hazel tore Toronto to shreds, imagining her conception at the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital or the CNE horse palace, and such parents as JFK, Louisa May Alcott, Perry Mason and the Queen of England.
A story from Alice Zorn's short story collection, Ruins and Relics, "Stop Sign Princess," is set along the Gaspé coastline.
About the book: These are short stories about people who harbour relics from their past: a postcard from Vienna, the cigarette burns that scar a boy's chest, a stolen USB pen, blue concentration camp numbers tattooed on a forearm, a man's sense of his own body as his HIV overtakes him. Alice Zorn’s remarkable debut collection displays these talismans of personal history and transforms them into extraordinary stories about relationships between partners, family, friends, and strangers.
For a journey into Northern Quebec, take along The Hunting Ground, by Lise Tremblay, translated by Linda Gaboriau, as your literary companion.
About the book: A northern Canadian village, one of many remote settlements dotting the Quebec landscape, is in transition. Originally dependent on subsistence farming and logging, supplemented by winter hunting, its economy has gradually changed over the years: first increasingly dependent on guiding southern urbanites on hunting trips; then on providing a habitat for birdwatchers, nature tourists and collectors of antiques and local crafts; now primarily dependent on income flows from cottagers and retirees.
Each of these remarkably engaging stories is recounted by different narrators from the village’s diverse genders, social classes and employment and economic circumstances. This is a book of parentheses, which, like the spokes of a wheel or the sweep of the lines on a radar screen, gradually and collectively begin to delineate and define the eerie contemporary landscape of The Hunting Ground. Now devoid of any sense of a cohesive community or shared culture, each of these uncanny fragments of alienated and fragmented civilization and imagination is bracketed on the one hand by the passive and vacuous sentimentality of Reader’s Digest and television, and on the other by the senseless primal fury of killing and destruction. It is a clever and unsettling mockery of the many privately printed "local histories" of small towns, feeding only the yearning nostalgia of the few surviving original inhabitants; the tourist trade vainly promoted by the local town council; and the ethnographic interest of urban professionals researching and catalogueuing endangered species.
For your New Brunswick holiday, bring a copy of The Town That Drowned, by Riel Nason, set in the Saint John River Valley.
About the book: Living with a weird brother in a small town can be tough enough. Having a spectacular fall through the ice at a skating party and nearly drowning are grounds for embarrassment. But having a vision and narrating it to the assembled crowd solidifies your status as an outcast.
What Ruby Carson saw during that fateful day was her entire town—buildings and people—floating underwater. Then an orange-tipped surveyor stake turns up in a farmer's field. Another is found in the cemetery. A man with surveying equipment is spotted eating lunch near Pokiok Falls. The residents of Haverton soon discover that a massive dam is being constructed and that most of their homes will be swallowed by the rising water. Suspicions mount, tempers flare, and secrets are revealed. As the town prepares for its own demise, 14-year-old Ruby Carson sees it all from a front-row seat.
Reading Prince Edward Island is about more than just Anne of Green Gables. Check out Tide Road, by Valerie Compton.
About the book: When Stella disappears, leaving her toddler and husband behind, her mother Sonia, a widowed farm wife and former lighthouse keeper, struggles to face the possibility that her daughter may not have slipped through the ice. She may have been pushed. In a intensely memorable narrative with the deceptive pull of an undertow, Sonia’s past, a flotsam of lost dreams, bruised hopes, buried love, wells up to meet her. Confronted with her own history of choices and failures, Sonia is compelled to revise her perception of her daughter’s life and dramatically change the way she lives her own. Compton is a deft draughtsman of character, whose powers of description, timing, and astounding revelation coalesce into a splendidly nuanced account of the unguessed-at legacies of a life shaped by choices.
A trip to Cape Breton calls for a copy of Cape Breton Road, by D.R. MacDonald.
About the book: At 19, Innis Corbett is transplanted from his home near Boston and suddenly finds himself back in the remote Cape Breton community where he was born, the reluctant and unwelcome guest of his uncle Starr. Innis had developed an addiction for stealing expensive cars (not for money but for pleasure) and for the marijuana he helps his best friend to sell. When bad habits catch up with him, he is deported to Canada, a punishment worse than prison.
Innis is unimpressed by his uncle, who gave up his dreams of leaving the island to repair televisions, chase women, drive a Lada and grow nostalgic on rum. Desperate to get away, Innis hatches the only escape plan he can, and starts to grow a secret cash crop of marijuana and looks for a car to steal. He bides his time smoking pot and doing whatever odd jobs he has to, full of unnamed need and pent-up anger. When Starr’s current girlfriend, an attractive woman in her late thirties, comes to stay while fleeing another relationship, Innis’s deep sense of longing fixes on her. He feels fierce desire, but also something he recognizes as good and true. Starr cautions him, and a bitter jealous rivalry begins to rage between them, violence lying just under the surface. As summer arrives, Innis’ suffocation and the tension between the two men are palpable.
Another great Cape Breton read is Ava Comes Home, by Lesley Crewe.
About the book: Ava Harris is a famous actress living the life of the rich and fabulous in L.A. when a family crisis calls her home. It's been ten years since she's set foot in Glace Bay, Cape Breton- back when she was plain old Libby MacKinnon. Why she ran away, no one knows. Returning home, she must face her family, her friends, and her first love, Seamus O'Reilly, whose heart broke the day she left.
Ava is a good little actress, determined that no one will know what happened. She will keep the truth buried at all costs-even if she has to run again. But secrets have a way of surfacing, especially in a small town, and love has a way of blasting through the toughest barriers. While Ava can never go home again, perhaps Libby finally can.
If you're reading up the Newfoundland coast, pack a copy of Downhill Chance, by Donna Morrissey.
About the book: With the bestselling and beloved Kit's Law, Donna Morrissey established herself as a stunning new voice in Canadian fiction. With Downhill Chance, she has crafted a captivating successor, and in Clair Gale, she has created an unforgettable heroine. Clair is the unsinkable heart of the novel, a story of two families during wartime—the Osmonds and the Gales—joined by love, yet torn apart by fear and secrets. Morrissey blends melodrama, gritty realism and a flair for the comic in this unique novel. At its core is the unravelling of secrets—and the redemption that truth ultimately brings to the people who inhabit these pages so memorably.
And because one Newfoundland read is never enough, bring along a copy of That Forgetful Shore, by Trudy Morgan-Cole.
About the book: Triffie and Kit are closer than sisters. But for two girls growing up in a tiny Newfoundland outport at the dawn of the twentieth century, having the same dreams and ambitions doesn't mean life will hand you the same opportunities. A teacher's certificate offers Kit the chance to explore the wider world, while Triffie is left behind, living the life she never wanted with the man she swore she'd never marry. The letters she and Kit exchange are her lifeline—until a long-buried secret threatens to destroy their friendship. That Forgetful Shore is a story of friendship, love, faith and betrayal.
Did we miss your vacation destination? Then check out the Read Local Map to find great books tied to where you're going. And do you notice a book missing? Now is as good a time as ever then to add it to the map.
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