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 award-winning poet Lorna Crozier, whose latest book is The Wild in You; Jael Richardson, author and and artistic director of the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD); Laura Frey, literary blogger at ReadinginBed.com; Susan Renouf, editor and publishing strategist; Steve Stanton, author and former president of Canada's national association of science fiction and fantasy authors; and Jean Marc Ah Sen, author of the debut novel, Grand Menteur.
Lorna Crozier picks Connie Gault’s A Beauty
Connie Gault's new novel, A Beauty, is a beauty from the first page to the last. It’s set in the Dirty Thirties, that decade of drought and hard times in Saskatchewan. It wasn’t only the wheat that shrivelled. So did the human spirit. Gault takes us into the minds and hearts of several small-town people trying to break through despair and the narrowing of their days into some kind of wonder. All of her minor characters are touching and memorable. The heroine, Elena, a beautiful young woman who runs off from a country dance with a stranger, shatters the quotidian and changes the lives of several people as she journeys through the prairies to Ontario.
Gault is a genius. Her prose is tough and lyrical, her wisdom startling. Gault is known mainly as a short-story writer and a playwright; this book is a triumph. I rarely read books twice because there are so many novels I haven’t started yet. This one I’m going to read again.
Lorna Crozier has received numerous awards, including the Governor General’s Award, for her 15 books of poetry. She is also author of the memoir Small Beneath the Sky and the editor of several anthologies. She lives in Saanich, British Columbia. Her new books, The Wild in You, and The Wrong Cat, are now available.
Laura Frey picks Claire Cameron's The Bear
To paraphrase feminist Marie Shear, The Bear is predicated on the radical notion that children are people. That Claire Cameron must place her young protagonist in an extreme situation to illustrate this notion just goes to show how radical it is: six-year-old Anna's parents are killed by a bear while camping on a remote Ontario island, leaving Anna to fend for herself and her two-year-old brother. If Anna was sixteen, we'd call this a coming of age story, but at six? The Bear is something else entirely.
I cried the whole way through this short novel, not just because I was sad for Anna, but because Anna made me think about my kids and the way I parent. How often do I forget that my kids are not just "mine," and are not just a collection of problems to be solved and schedules to be kept and developmental milestones to be met? Anna reminded me that kids, like all people, are capable of rising to the occasion, even while their behaviour regresses in other areas. She reminded me that being afraid doesn't mean you can't be brave. She reminded me that the relentless self-centeredness of children is not exclusive to children and is not the same thing as selfishness.
Parents of young children, be warned: The Bear will hit close to home. All of us were children once, though, and readers of all ages and stages will get something out of it. If life lessons aren't your thing, it's also a very quick and compelling read, and it's awfully Canadian, what with the wilderness and the survival tactics and, well, the bear. And if that's still not enough, Cameron wrote a series of blog posts about her writing process that are fascinating and funny and a great companion to the novel.
Brace yourself for an ugly cry and a beautiful read.
Susan Renouf picks Andrew Westoll's The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary
A few weeks ago, the United States agency responsible for issuing permits for the use of chimpanzees in research announced that chimps would be recognized under the Endangered Species Act, effectively ending any further approvals. It was long past time for such a decision. And what better way to toast this milestone than by picking up the Taylor prize-winning book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary?
Written with the narrative drive of all great adventure stories, primatologist and author Andrew Westoll brilliantly blends science and storytelling to take his readers deep into the world of the haunted and haunting rescued research chimps of Fauna Sanctuary. Pulled from decades of horrific lab conditions, the retired chimps live out the balance of their long lives in sanctuaries such as Fauna where they cared for by a group of extraordinary, committed people.
Westoll draws the reader into the wild day-to-day ride of life with the Fauna chimps and soon their Otherness falls away. Through his lens, the chimps are revealed as the individuals they are, with all their foibles, damage, and possibility. I guarantee that your world view will change forever. Heartrending and heart-warming, this is a wonderfully readable, important work of art and documentary and science.
Susan Renouf is the principal of Abanaki Editorial and Consulting, providing strategic advice and editorial services to the publishing industry, as well as an executive editor at large for ECW Press. She has held executive positions at Douglas & McIntyre, Doubleday, Kids Can Press, Key Porter Books, and McClelland & Stewart.
Steve Stanton picks Sing a Worried Song, by William Deverell
Veteran Canadian novelist William Deverell is back with another fine Arthur Beauchamp mystery that takes the reader back to 1987 in a fictional recreation of the infamous thrill killing of a Vancouver street person by a young man visiting from Toronto. Beauchamp is an alcoholic going into his third week sober, married to an adulterous woman, and embroiled in his first case as a Crown Attorney after having plied his trade on the defence side of the courtroom for many years. The tension in the narrative does not arise from any mystery regarding the details of the case as in a classic whodunit. Rather it's to be found in the courtroom drama, as Beauchamp tries to enter admissible evidence and finds it difficult to prove his case with legal certainty.
After this prequel, the author switches gears to the present tense. It's twenty-five years later and Beauchamp is bumbling along in retirement on the island of Garibaldi off the coast of British Columbia, where he is perpetually troubled by his stoner neighbour and drunken sidekicks, “Stoney” and “Dog.” In a misguided attempt to protect a friend’s reputation at the local Marijuana Growers Fall Fair, Beauchamp witnesses Dog’s arrest for trafficking in cannabis and becomes a person of interest as the town folk rise in protest to demand Dog’s release from jail in Vancouver. To complicate matters even more, the thrill killer has been released on parole after twenty-five years, despite his long-standing threat to kill the trial lawyer who put him behind bars.
Steve Stanton is the author of a Canadian sci-fi trilogy, The Bloodlight Chronicles, and is the former president of Canada's national association of science fiction and fantasy authors. You can find him on Twitter @SFStanton.
Jael Richardson picks Tamai Kobayashi's Prairie Ostrich
Prairie Ostrich is the kind of novel you want your friends and your book club to read so you can talk about everything. It’s the story of Egg Murakami, a Japanese-Canadian girl whose family owns an Ostrich farm in the small town of Bittercreek, Alberta. While the novel is set in the 70s, Kobayashi’s story is both current and universal. It’s the story of two sisters navigating the perils of adolescence as the family struggles under the shadows of loss and isolation. Prairie Ostrich conveys the bewilderment of Canadian culture through the eyes of a hopeful, compelling outsider with writing that employs the kind of carefully constructed prose that characterizes great Canadian novels.
Jean Mark Ah Sen picks The Hunt, by Jason Dickson
The Hunt is everything you want from accomplished experimental literature. It's formally innovative, conceptually brilliant, challenging without being obscure. Jason Dickson's designs are world-class lush, and the conceit of the book is my kind of grandeur: a collection of postcards chronicling the murder of a woman as her husband and two children make a new life for themselves in cities across Canada, while also hunting down her killer.
I love how the text works on multiple levels. There's the arrangement of the cards in book form as art object, the heterodoxy of what a novel can be (the cards were originally part of an installation Dickson organized), the diegetic element of the cards being sent from the characters of the book, and finally the author's arrangement of found-object period-specific postcards—a picture-show of repurposed, recolonized history.
Dickson's prose is beautiful, and the elegiac quality of the whole work transmits to a reader the astoundingly vivid sense of oppression and isolation one would feel being dragged around the country like a dead weight on a man's sanity. Easily one of my favourite things that BookThug has ever done.
Jean Marc Ah-Sen was born in East York, Ontario, in 1987. He comes from a family of Mauritian winemakers and was a frequent contributor to the Innis Herald, a University of Toronto newspaper. He lives in Toronto with his wife and son. Grand Menteur is his first novel.
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