The Recommend: April 2017

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 Joanna Lilley (If There Were Roads); Matt Murphy (A Beckoning War), Robert McGill (Once We Had a Country); Samantha Rideout (The People Who Stay); and Sheree Fitch (If You Could Wear My Sneakers, plus two dozen or so other books!).

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Joanna Lilley recommends Karen Enns’ Ordinary Hours

If you find poetry intimidating or just don’t think it’s for you, try sitting at the kitchen table with a copy of Karen Enns’ collection, Ordinary Hours. Enns writes as if she’s sitting at the table with you, her hands around a mug of tea, glancing every now and then through the window into the garden as she tells you about her day and asks you about yours.
 
I used to be daunted by poetry—both reading and writing it. I think Enns’ poems are the sort of poetry I was always looking for. She writes about everyday life: rain and wrens, memory and wonder. She confronts the realization some of us can have that we really have no idea what we’re doing here.
 
Reading Enns prompts me to notice life, to take in as many moments as I can. She helps me to see a shaft of sunlight through a pane of glass and remember to stop and breathe, not worry about how dirty the windows are. This is a book to keep by your bedside, or on the kitchen table, so it’s there to dip into when you find the world is too unsteady beneath your feet.
 
There are several books on my bookshelves that I know I will always keep. I call them my life books. Ordinary Hours is one of them.

There are several books on my bookshelves that I know I will always keep. I call them my life books. Ordinary Hours is one of them.

Joanna Lilley is an award-winning poet living in Whitehorse. Born in the UK, Joanna has always been drawn north, crossing the Arctic Circle twice before settling in the Yukon. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Malahat Review and Grain. If There Were Roads is her second collection of poetry.

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Matt Murphy recommends The Minted, by Will McClelland

Of all the Canadian novels I’ve read in the last couple years, the one that stands tallest and rings out loudest to me is The Minted, the debut novel by Will McClelland. This book indulges in wild, inventive Canadian myth-making, and is, in my view, utterly compelling and completely original.

The story, more or less: A moose leads an animal rebellion in Canada in a near future of increased environmental degradation. Throughout the novel, the reader is treated to: environmental terrorist attacks; demonic interventions in Canadian history; self-supposed cyborgs; a cross-Canada train ride; Don Cherry piloting a tank; the nefarious doings behind the closed doors of the Royal Canadian Mint; and, just maybe, a bit of interspecies sex. What is amazing is how all these wild, disparate elements (among others) cohere—the books forms a perfect world unto itself. McClelland creates a ludicrous situation and collection of characters that are so well-realized, and shed so much light on the real world, that you can’t help but accept it all. It all becomes strangely real. The result is a story that is hilarious, thought-provoking and strangely moving all at once.

McClelland creates a ludicrous situation and collection of characters that are so well-realized, and shed so much light on the real world, that you can’t help but accept it all.

So far, this book has garnered some strong reviews, notably from Quill and Quire and the Winnipeg Free Press. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wants something a little (or very) different, and who wants to think, laugh and feel all at the same time, while contemplating this vast land in which we live.

So, as a reader, do yourself a favour: Get yourself a copy now! So far, it is available The Minted website, and at select bookstores in Toronto and Montreal. 

abeckoningwar

Matthew Murphy was born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario, and lives in Montreal. His debut novel, A Beckoning War (Baraka Books, 2016), concerns the trials and tribulations of a Canadian infantry officer in the Italian Campaign of World War II. It has been called "the product of an amazing new talent" by Quill & Quire, and a "creditable first novel" by Margaret Atwood. He is currently working on another novel as well as a collection of novellas.

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Robert McGill recommends Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s All the Broken Things

All the Broken Things will be a shock to readers for whom only draft dodgers come to mind when they think about Canada’s relationship to the Vietnam War. Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer has a more unsettling story to tell as she introduces us to Bo, a boy living in Toronto with his family in the early 1980s after fleeing Vietnam at the war’s end.

Life in Canada brings Bo face to face with hardship, racism, and the lasting effects of Agent Orange, a chemical that was manufactured in Ontario and used by the US military in Vietnam to devastating effect, not least on the very people Bo loves.

It’s sober stuff, but All the Broken Things has magic to go with its heartache. The enchantment begins when Bo is drawn into performing as a bear wrestler on the local carnival circuit. It continues when he and a young bear he’s training run away together to live as fugitives in Toronto’s parklands. And somehow along the way, the novel manages to become a retelling of the Orpheus myth, too.

While All the Broken Things is by no means the first contemporary Canadian novel about the Vietnam War’s legacy, it’s one of the most distinctive, and perhaps the most committed to revisiting Canada’s part in the war with a critical eye. It’s a book to make you think. As we follow Bo in his trials, his passions, and his feverish loyalty to intimates both human and ursine, Kuitenbrouwer’s story also ends up getting you right in the gut.

While All the Broken Things is by no means the first contemporary Canadian novel about the Vietnam War’s legacy, it’s one of the most distinctive, and perhaps the most committed to revisiting Canada’s part in the war with a critical eye.

Robert McGill is the author of the novels The Mysteries and Once We Had a Country. His new book, War Is Here: The Vietnam War and Canadian Literature, will be published in October by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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thinkingofendingthings

Samantha Rideout recommends Iain Reid's I'm Thinking of Ending Things

If you want a book that you will not be able to put down, I recommend Iain Reid’s literary thriller, I’m Thinking of Ending Things. I only recently began reading this genre. I resisted as long as I could but there is an endless stream of brilliant options and Reid’s debut novel is certainly one of them. Even if this isn't your go-to genre, I can assure you that it goes beyond the formula of a paperback. There are lines that I had to underline; thoughts like, "Seeing someone with their parents is a tangible reminder that we're all composites" and "Pretty much all memory is fiction and heavily edited."

Reid creates eerie settings that are impossibly vivid, characters that are beyond creepy, and a plot that is deceptively simple until it is not. I was not ready for the strange and chilling tale Reid weaves in these pages. This is a study in how to write suspense. I was so absorbed in the story that I kept forgetting to drink my coffee and found cup after cup going cold. This is the type of book that needs to be read in a book club because, if you’re anything like me, you’ll need to discuss this novel (especially the ending) with other readers.

I was so absorbed in the story that I kept forgetting to drink my coffee and found cup after cup going cold.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you start reading this book and realize you’ve lost two days of your life!

Samantha Rideout is the author of The People Who Stay (Flanker Press, 2016). She lives in New York via Newfoundland. Find her at facebook.com/samantharideoutauthor or Instagram.com/samanthajuliie.

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Sheree Fitch recommends Linda Little's Grist

A short, literary page turner, Grist is not a light “beach read” but a rare and resonant book and the third novel from award-winning writer Linda Little.    

grist

The protagonist, Penelope McCabe, is a spinster schoolteacher, “a horse of a girl,” who after a practical courtship marries miller Ewan MacLaughlin and then goes off to make a home and a life. Initially Little draws us into Penelope’s new life with a strong portrait of the community she find herself in. The miller’s frolic is described colourfully—“saws chewed through hemlock boards wide as man”—and the ambience Little creates is almost audible. The clang and clatter of building the Grist mill resounds because of Little’s poetic prose and balanced  use of the language of sensory perception.

Initially, Penelope has deep respect for the labour and even beauty of the mill. There is a promise of a prosperous future but the frolic phase of her married life is short-lived. As Ewen’s true and complex character emerges, Penelope becomes more workhorse than cherished wife, tethered to both the mill and the man.  

Gender and work are explored from a refreshing point of view in Grist. When Ewan insists she can and must run the mill in his absence, Penelope is resistant, both insecure about her capability and embarrassed that she should be seen doing a man’s work. Loneliness, silent endurance and tragedy mark her life, yet—and this is Little’s gift—the book is an engrossing read, and Penelope, an unforgettable character. Grist is a searing and powerful portrait of maternal love and of a resilient woman whose ultimate response to loss, loneliness, and silence is to connect and create.

Grist is a searing and powerful portrait of maternal love and of a resilient woman whose ultimate response to loss, loneliness, and silence is to connect and create.

"This is the story of how you were loved," Penelope tells her granddaughter.

In the end, it is love that infuses this hauntingly beautiful book.

Disclosure: Linda Little lives "up the road" from Sheree Fitch in River John, Nova Scotia. Linda is a founding member of the Read By the Sea Literary Festival, now in its eighteenth year. All Little's previous novels, Strong Hollow (Goose Lane), Scotch River (Viking) and her children's book Work and More Work (Groundwood) will be found in Mabel Murple's Book Shoppe and Dreamery, a specialty bookshop featuring Atlantic Canadian books in all genres as well as Canadian children’s books. So will Linda Little—working behind the counter, helping Sheree sell books from July to September. Grand Opening July 3.  

Sheree Fitch has won almost every major award for Canadian children’s literature, including the Vicky Metcalf Award for a Body of Work Inspirational to Canadian Children. She has over twenty-five books to her credit, including If You Could Wear My Sneakers and Polly MacCauley's Finest, Divinest, Wooliest Gift of All. Her home base is the East Coast of Canada.

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April 21, 2017
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