Winning Books: Spring 2017

Every year, as spring arrives across the country, Canadian writers and readers celebrate the best of CanLit with prizes and awards from different regions and genres, but there's nothing specialized about any of it. These books are for everyone, and we at 49th Shelf relish every second these great books get to spend in the spotlight. So much so that we want to let it shine a little longer with a look at the titles that have been big winners lately. 

(Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post in the weeks to come, once the winners of the Alberta Literary Awards have been announced, and the Trillium Book Awards, and more. The job of celebrating Canadian books is never done—which is just the way we like it.) 

*****

If I Were in a Cage I'd Reach for You, by Adele Barclay

Winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize (BC Book Prizes)

About the book: If I Were in a Cage I'd Reach Out for You is a collection that travels through both time and place, liminally occupying the chasm between Canadiana and Americana mythologies. These poems dwell in surreal pockets of the everyday warped landscapes of modern cities and flood into the murky basin of the intimate.

Amidst the comings and goings, there's a sincere desire to connect to others, an essential need to reach out, to redraft the narratives that make kinship radical and near. These poems are love letters to the uncomfortable, the unfathomable, and the altered geographies that define our own misshapen understandings of the world.

*

New Albion, by Dwayne Brenna

Winner of the Muslims for Peace and Justice Fiction Award (Saskatchewan Book Awards)

About the book: New Albion follows the lives of the employees of the New Albion theatre in London, England, in 1850, through the journal entries of the stage manager, Emlyn Phillips. Fighting its own reputation, hindered by its location and “sketchy” (at best) audience, as well as a police commissioner who demands “morally upstanding” plays, and a playwright so decrepit and addicted to laudanum that the actors of the New Albion are never sure what to expect, the troupe attempts to put on the best show possible, each and every night. The reader is introduced to the entire company of actors, all of whom have their own set of issues, who consistently band together as a community and family in the face of every obstacle—and there are more than a few of those. As the theatre encounters problem after problem, Phillips must decide how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the sake of his passion.

*

Sable Island in Black and White, by Jill Martin Bouteillier

Winner of the Democracy 250 Atlantic Book Award for Historical Writing (Atlantic Book Awards)

About the book: The newest addition to the Images of Our Past series, Sable Island in Black and White is a fascinating look at day-to-day life on Nova Scotia's most secluded outpost during the nineteenth century. Travel back in time to 1884 when author Jill Martin-Bouteillier's great aunt, Trixie, was growing up on this isolated spit of sand 160 kilometres from the North American mainland. Trixie's father, Robert Jarvis (R. J.) Bouteillier, was Sable Island's superintendent, acting on behalf of the Nova Scotia government as lawmaker, doctor, dispenser of stores, and, most importantly, head of lifesaving. 

This narrative history—accented by more than 100 black and white family photographs of the island's famous shipwrecks, wild horses, and visitors— tells the incredible true story of a stalwart group of ordinary people who called Sable Island home.

*

A Disappearance in Damascus, by Deborah Campbell

Winner of the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize (BC Book Prizes)

About the book: The story begins in 2007 when Deborah Campbell travels undercover to Damascus to report on the exodus of Iraqis into Syria following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. There she meets and hires Ahlam, a refugee working as a “fixer”—providing Western media with trustworthy information and contacts to help get the news out. Ahlam, who fled her home in Iraq after being kidnapped while running a humanitarian centre, not only supports her husband and two children through her work with foreign journalists but is setting up a makeshift school for displaced girls. She has become a charismatic, unofficial leader of the refugee community in Damascus, and Campbell is inspired by her determination to create something good amid so much suffering. Ahlam soon becomes her friend as well as her guide. But one morning Ahlam is seized from her home in front of Campbell’s eyes. Haunted by the prospect that their work together has led to her friend’s arrest, Campbell spends the months that follow desperately trying to find her—all the while fearing she could be next. 
 
Through its compelling story of two women caught up in the shadowy politics behind today’s conflict, A Disappearance in Damascus reminds us of the courage of those who risk their lives to bring us the world’s news.

*

Into the Wasteland, by Lesley Choyce

Winner of the Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children’s Literature (Atlantic Book Awards)

About the book: Dixon Carter wants to share his life manifesto. Don't worry—there won't be any violence. Dixon doesn't believe in violence. But Dixon is seeing things differently. He has gone off his meds—the drugs deaden him to the world. He is writing a daily journal from the point he stopped the meds. 

There are times he is angry with the world and everyone in it. But then there are the times where he can see all the beauty, just like the Romantic poets. His girlfriend Sylvia and best friend Zeke are trying to help him on his journey. 

But when the real world throws a tragic event in Dixon's path his struggles to save himself become darker and much more difficult and dangerous.

*

Social Studies, by Trish Cooper

Winner of the The Chris Johnson Award for Best Play by a Manitoba Playwright (Manitoba Book Awards)

About the book: When Jackie comes back to her childhood home after separating from her husband, she thinks her biggest problem will be readjusting to life on a smaller bed. She's surprised to learn, however, that her mother has given that bed away to Deng, a Sudanese refugee. But the former Lost Boy is not all that he seems, and the entire family—Jackie, her earth goddess mother, and her sixteen-year old sister—learns something about making assumptions. When Deng crashes Jackie's newly purchased car and then reveals that he doesn't have a driver's license, Jackie must make a choice. Will she make a personal sacrifice on behalf of someone who has lived through the worst? 

Cultural differences, language barriers, and the self-conscious earnestness of good intentions all feature in this scathingly comic look at Canadian values. Social Studies was presented at Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg, and at Vancouver's Firehall Theatre.

*

Along Comes a Wolfe, by Angie Counios and David Gane 

Winner of the O’Reilly Insurance and The Co-operators First Book Award (Saskatchewan Book Awards)

About the book: Shepherd & Wolfe. They’re not the Hardy Boys.

High school student Sheri Beckman has disappeared. When a massive search turns up nothing, her boyfriend, Tony Shepherd, joins forces with a wise-ass troublemaker named Charlie Wolfe to find out what happened.

But Charlie’s investigations aren’t always legal, so when another missing girl is found dead, Tony must decide whether doing right might sometimes mean doing wrong.

Together, Shepherd and Wolfe must find a ruthless killer and stop him before someone else dies.

*

Sky Pig, by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Winner of the Lillian Shepherd Award for Excellence in Illustration (Atlantic Book Awards)

About the book: First Jack and Ollie try the leafy branches. Then a giant kite. Idea after idea, invention after invention, boy and pig drag them all to the top of the highest hill. Then Ollie runs as hard as ever a pig could run, until his trotters lift from the ground and—Crash! In Sky Pig, Jan Coates weaves a story of sweetness and whimsy, ingenuity and empathy. Plasticine artist Suzanne Del Rizzo brings dimension and energy to the tale of a pig who wants—against all popular truisms—to fly. He may never reach the sky on homemade clockwork wings, but Ollie still dreams as hard as ever a pig can dream. And Jack, a true friend, realizes that just because a pig can’t fly in the ways they have tried doesn’t mean he can never soar. An uplifting picture book for anyone who has tried and tried again.

*

The Pain Eater, by Beth Goobie

Winner of the Saskatchewan Young Adult Literature Award (Saskatchewan Book Awards)

About the book: She hadn’t told anyone. Not a single soul. Not one word about that night and what had been done to her had ever passed Maddy Malone’s lips. She’d thought about it at first—had been desperate, even frantic, to tell. But then had come the shame, and the intimidation from the boys who raped her—and the one who held her down. Now it’s the beginning of a new school year and Maddy is hoping that she can continue to hide, making herself as quiet and small as possible. She is consumed with keeping the memories at bay, forcing them down through small cuts and the burn from the end of a cigarette. But when her English class is given the assignment of writing a collaborative novel about a fifteen-year-old girl, The Pain Eater, fact and fiction begin to meet up. When the boys spread rumors about Maddy, she realizes that continuing to hide the truth will only give them more control, and she slowly gains the courage to confront them.

*

A Daughter's Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story, by Jeremy Grimaldi

Winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Nonfiction Book 

About the book: From the outside looking in, Jennifer Pan seemed like a model daughter living a perfect life. The ideal child, the one her immigrant parents saw, was studying to become a pharmacist at the University of Toronto. But there was a dark, deceptive side to the angelic young woman.

In reality, Jennifer spent her days in the arms of her high school sweetheart, Daniel. In an attempt to lead the life she dreamed of, she would do almost anything: lie about her whereabouts, forge school documents, and invent fake jobs and a fictitious apartment. For many years she led this double life. But when her father discovered her web of lies, his ultimatum was severe. And so, too, was her revenge: a plan that culminated in cold-blooded murder. And it almost worked, except for one bad shot.

The story of Jennifer Pan is one of all-consuming love and devious betrayal that led to a cold-hearted plan hatched by a group of youths who thought they could pull off the perfect crime.

*

Advocate, by Darren Greer

Winner of the Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award (Fiction) (Atlantic Book Awards) 

About the book: A man returns to his hometown of Advocate, Nova Scotia, at the wishes of his dying estranged grandmother, and relives the events of his chidhood in the early 80s—a time when the tiny community, fuelled by the hysteria over a then-unknown virus, turned on one of its own, revealing both the evils brought on by fear and ignorance, and the strength and dignity of those who would endure.

*

Burning in this Midnight Dream, by Louise Bernice Halfe

Winner of the Rasmussen, Rasmussen & Charowsky Indigenous Peoples’ Writing Award, Saskatchewan Arts Board Poetry Award (Saskatchewan Book Awards)

About the book: Burning in the Midnight Dream is the latest collection of poems by Louise Bernice Halfe. Many were written in response to the grim tide of emotions, memories, dreams and nightmares that arose in her as the Truth and Reconciliation process unfolded.

In heart-wrenching detail, Halfe recalls the damage done to her parents, her family, herself. With fearlessly wrought verse, Halfe describes how the experience of the residential schools continues to haunt those who survive, and how the effects pass like a virus from one generation to the next. She asks us to consider the damage done to children taken from their families, to families mourning their children; damage done to entire communities and to ancient cultures.

Halfe's poetic voice soars in this incredibly moving collection as she digs deep to discover the root of her pain. Her images, created from the natural world, reveal the spiritual strength of her culture.

*

Towards a Prairie Atonement, by Trevor Herriot

Winner of the City of Regina Book Award (Saskatchewan Book Awards)

About the book: Towards a Prairie Atonement addresses this question by enlisting the help of a Metis Elder and revisiting the history of one corner of the Great Plains.

Set on a prairie remnant seven thousand years old, this book's lyrical blend of personal narrative, prairie history, imagery, and argument begins with the cause of protecting native grassland on community pastures. As the narrative unfolds, however, Trevor Herriot, the award-winning author of Grass, Sky, Song and River in a Dry Land, finds himself recruited into the work of reconciliation.

Facing his own responsibility as a descendent of settlers, he connects today's ecological disarray to colonial decisions to remove the Metis and their community land ethic from the prairie. With Indigenous and settler people alienated from one another and from the grassland itself, hope and courage are in short supply. This book proposes an atonement that could again bring people and prairie together.

*

No Free Man: Canada, the Great War, and the Enemy Alien Experience, by Bohdan S. Kordan

Winner of the Jennifer Welsh Scholarly Writing Award (Saskatchewan Book Awards)

About the book: Approximately 8,000 Canadian civilians were imprisoned during the First World War because of their ethnic ties to Germany, Austria-Hungary, and other enemy nations. Although not as well-known as the later internments of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, these incarcerations played a crucial role in shaping debates about Canadian citizenship, diversity, and loyalty.

Tracing the evolution and consequences of Canadian government policy towards immigrants of enemy nationality, No Free Man is a nuanced work that acknowledges both the challenges faced by the Government of Canada as well as the experiences of internees and their families. Bohdan Kordan gives particular attention to the ways in which the political and legal status of enemy subjects configured the policy and practice of internment and how this process—magnified by the challenges of the war—affected the broader concerns of public order and national security. Placing the issue of internment within the wider context of community and belonging, Kordan further delves into the ways that wartime turbulence and anxieties shaped public attitudes towards the treatment of enemy aliens. He concludes that Canada’s leadership failed to protect immigrants of enemy origin during a period of intense suspicion, conflict, and crisis.

*

Masterminds: Criminal Destiny, by Gordon Korman

Winner of the Arthur Ellis Awards Best Juvenile/YA Book

About the book: The clones of Project Osiris are free—but they’re being hunted. . . .  After their narrow escape from their “perfect” hometown, Eli, Tori, Amber and Malik are finally in the real world and determined to expose the leaders of Serenity. They decide to track down Tamara Dunleavy, the mysterious billionaire and founder of Project Osiris. Evading capture by breaking laws and sneaking into houses, hotels, buses and cars—are they becoming the criminals they were destined to be?

What they discover will change everything, leading them straight into the Plastic Works and the heart of the experiment, in order to uncover the deadly criminals they’re cloned from—and any evidence that will convince the outside world to believe the truth. But the outside world isn’t exactly what they expected—strangers aren’t just unfriendly, they’re dangerous. And the wrong move could send them right back into the arms of Dr. Hammerstrom—and trapped in Serenity for good.

On a breakneck journey from Jackson Hole to a maximum security prison—Eli, Tori, Amber and Malik will stop at nothing to take Project Osiris down.

*

The Witch of the Inner Wood, by M. Travis Lane

Winner of the Fiddlehead Poetry Prize (New Brunswick Book Awards)

About the book: Like the novella in fiction, the long poem is an oft-neglected form. Too long for publication in most literary journals and anthologies, too short to merit book-length publication, the long poem occupies a lonely space in literature. M. Travis Lane is a master of the form, in which her considerable poetic skills reach their apex. There are few that match her brilliance. This volume collects all of her long works—most of them now out of print—from a five-decade commitment to the art.

M. Travis Lane has long flown under the radar of Can Lit, crafting luminous poems and sharp literary criticism—much of it published in the Fiddlehead, one of Canada's premier literary journals—but in recent years her work has been drawing the attention it deserves. Evidence of this recognition is her 2015 Governor General's Award nomination for Crossover, a collection the still-vital poet published at the age of 81. Her poetry is modernist, dense, and highly allusive, drawing adeptly on classical and biblical sources, imbued with a feminist and ecocritical perspective. Her musical lines, vivid metaphors, and phenomenological acumen launch her into the company of such poetic luminaries as Don McKay, Jan Zwicky, and Tim Lilburn. In the long poetic form, these qualities reach their highest expression. This volume, an exquisite collection that brings together her long poems for the first time, constitutes an important addition to the canon of Canadian literature and to the canon of feminist literature in North America.

*

The Skeleton Tree, by Iain Lawrence

Winner of the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize (BC Book Prizes)

About the book: Less than 48 hours after twelve-year-old Chris casts off on a trip to sail down the Alaskan coast with his uncle, their boat sinks. The only survivors are Chris and a boy named Frank, who hates Chris immediately. Chris and Frank have no radio, no flares, no food. Suddenly, they've got to find a way to forage, fish and scavenge supplies from the shore. Chris likes the company of a curious friendly raven more than he likes the prickly Frank. But the boys have to get along if they want to survive. 

Because as the days get colder, and the salmon migration ends, survival will take more than sheer force of will. There in the wilderness of Kodiak, they discover a bond they didn't expect, and through it, the compassion and teamwork that might truly be the path to rescue.

*

Shadow of Doubt, by Bobbi-Jean Mackinnon

Winner of the Writers Federation of New Brunswick Non-Fiction Award

About the book: On July 6, 2011, Richard Oland, scion of the Moosehead brewing family, was murdered in his office. The brutal killing stunned the city of Saint John, and news of the crime reverberated across the country. In a shocking turn, and after a two-and-half-year police investigation, Oland's only son, Dennis, was arrested for second-degree murder.

CBC reporter Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon covered the Oland case from the beginning. In Shadow of Doubt, she examines the controversial investigation: from the day Richard Oland's battered body was discovered to the conclusion of Dennis Oland's trial, including the hotly debated verdict and its aftermath. Meticulously examining the evidence, MacKinnon vividly reconstructs the cases for both the prosecution and the defence. She delves into the Oland history, exploring the strained relationships, infidelities, and financial problems that, according to the Crown, provided motives for murder.

Shadow of Doubt is a revealing look at a sensational crime, the tribulations of a prominent family, and the inner workings of the justice system that led to Dennis Oland's contentious conviction.

*

The Heaviness of Things That Float, by Jennifer Manuel

Winner of the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize (BC Book Prizes)

About the book: Jennifer Manuel skilfully depicts the lonely world of Bernadette, a woman who has spent the last forty years living alone on the periphery of a remote West Coast First Nations reserve, serving as a nurse for the community. This is a place where truth and myth are deeply intertwined and stories are "like organisms all their own, life upon life, the way moss grows around poplar trunks and barnacles atop crab shells, the way golden chanterelles spring from hemlock needles. They spread in the cove with the kelp and the eelgrass, and in the rainforest with the lichen, the cedars, the swordferns. They pelt down inside raindrops, erode thick slabs of driftwood, puddle the old logging road that these days led to nowhere."

Only weeks from retirement, Bernadette finds herself unsettled, with no immediate family of her own—how does she fit into the world? Her fears are complicated by the role she has played within their community: a keeper of secrets in a place "too small for secrets." And then a shocking announcement crackles over the VHF radio of the remote medical outpost: Chase Charlie, the young man that Bernadette loves like a son, is missing. The community is thrown into upheaval, and with the surface broken, raw dysfunction, pain and truths float to the light.

*

The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel

Winner of the City of Saskatoon and Public Library Saskatoon Book Award (Saskatchewan Book Awards)

About the book: The High Mountains of Portugal is a suspenseful, mesmerizing story of a great quest for meaning, told in three intersecting narratives touching the lives of three different people and their families, and taking us on an extraordinary journey through the last century. We begin in the early 1900s, when Tomás discovers an ancient journal and sets out from Lisbon in one of the very first motor cars in Portugal in search of the strange treasure the journal describes. Thirty-five years later, a pathologist devoted to the novels of Agatha Christie, whose wife has possibly been murdered, finds himself drawn into the consequences of Tomás's quest. Fifty years later, Senator Peter Tovy of Ottawa, grieving the death of his own beloved wife, rescues a chimpanzee from an Oklahoma research facility and takes it to live with him in his ancestral village in northern Portugal, where the strands of all three stories miraculously mesh together.

Beautiful, witty and engaging, Yann Martel's new novel offers us the same tender exploration of the impact and significance of great love and great loss, belief and unbelief, that has marked all his brilliant, unexpected novels.

*

Naamiwan’s Drum: The Story of a Contested Repatriation of Anishinaabe Artefacts, by Maureen Matthews

Winner of the Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction (Manitoba Book Awards)

About the book: Naamiwan’s Drum follows the story of a famous Ojibwe medicine man, his gifted grandson, and remarkable water drum. This drum, and forty other artefacts, were given away by a Canadian museum to an American Anishinaabe group that had no family or community connections to the collection. Many years passed before the drum was returned to the family and only of the artefacts were ever returned to the museum.

Maureen Matthews takes us through this astonishing set of events from multiple perspectives, exploring community and museum viewpoints, visiting the ceremonial group leader in Wisconsin, and finally looking back from the point of view of the drum. The book contains a powerful Anishinaabe interpretive perspective on repatriation and on anthropology itself. Containing fourteen beautiful colour illustrations, Naamiwan’s Drum is a compelling account of repatriation as well as a cautionary tale for museum professionals.

*

The Snow Knows, by Jennifer McGrath

Winner of the Alice Kitts Memorial Award for Excellence in Children's Writing (New Brunswick Book Awards)

About the book: In this deceptively simple children's picture book, a pair of award­winning storytellers share the joys of winter. A lyrical prose poem, The Snow Knows introduces readers of all ages to animals both domestic (a tabby cat by the wood stove) and wild (a slinking lynx; a choir of coyotes), celebrating wilderness and outdoor play.

With whimsical hide­and­seek illustrations, readers will love following footprints and catching a glimpse of an owl's wing or pheasant's feathers, suggesting what appears on the following page. A beautiful book, destined to be a perennial winter favourite, and read aloud by a crackling fire.

*

The Fortunate Brother, by Donna Morrissey

Winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel

About the book: After being uprooted from their fishing outport, the Now family is further devastated by the tragic loss of their eldest son, Chris, who died working on an Alberta oil rig. Kyle Now is still mourning his older brother when the murder of a local bully changes everything. The victim's blood is found on the family's pier, and suspicion falls first on an alienated wife, and then finally on the troubled Now family. 

But behind this new turmoil, Chris's death continues to plague the family. Father Sylvanus Now drowns his sorrow in a bottle, while mother Addie is facing breast cancer. And the children fight their own battles as the tension persists between Kyle and his sister, Sylvie, over her role in their brother's death.

A cast of vivid characters surrounds the Now family, some intriguing, others comical—all masterfully crafted. As the murder mystery unfolds, other deeper secrets are revealed. Wise in the ways of the heart, The Fortunate Brother is a moving family drama from beloved storyteller Donna Morrissey.

*

Willem De Kooning’s Paintbrush, by Kerry Lee Powell

Winner of the  Alistair MacLeod Prize for Short Fiction (Atlantic Book Awards), Mrs. Dunster's Fiction Award (New Brunswick Book Awards)

About the book: An unflinching and masterful collection of award-winning stories, Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush is a career-making debut. Ranging from an island holiday gone wrong to a dive bar on the upswing to a yuppie mother in a pricey subdivision seeing her worst fears come true, these deftly written stories are populated by barkeeps, good men down on their luck, rebellious teens, lonely immigrants, dreamers and realists, fools and quiet heroes. In author Kerry Lee Powell’s skillful hands, each character, no matter what their choices, is deeply human in their search for connection. Powell holds us in her grasp, exploring with a black humour themes of belonging, the simmering potential for violence and the meaning of art no matter where it is found, and revealing with each story something essential about the way we see the world.

*

The Spanish Boy, by C.S. Reardon

Winner of the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher (Manitoba Book Awards)

About the book: Grief cannot abide a mystery. No one understands that better than the Clarey family of Halifax. In 1937, the Clareys are a close and loving family until their lives are transformed the night Edie, their wilful daughter and sister, vanishes, leaving no trace, no clue, as to what happened to her.

The lingering questions of her disappearance will ricochet through succeeding generations of Clareys. As decades pass and lives unfold, the memories of Edie's brothers and her parents, are haunted by the spectre of the missing girl. The misery of their grief is entangled with the only comfort they can find: a belief that one day the mystery of Edie’s disappearance will be solved. Drawn into Edie’s young life, and into her story, are two young men who work at her father's business: the bookkeeper Raymond Gillis and a stranger named Micah Gessen. The three form a triangle of jealousy and obsession. One of them knows what happened to the Clarey girl. Just as Edie’s vanishing is a moment of transformation for the Clarey family, so are the times they live in. The story of The Spanish Boy is told against the backdrop of some of the momentous events of the twentieth and earliest part of the twenty-first centuries.

*

Book Cover Viola Desmond's Canada

Viola Desmond’s Canada: A History of Black and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land, by Graham Reynolds with Wanda Robson

Winner of the The Robbie Robertson Dartmouth Book Award (Atlantic Book Awards)

About the book: In 1946, Viola Desmond was wrongfully arrested for sitting in a whites-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. In 2010, the Nova Scotia Government recognized this gross miscarriage of justice and posthumously granted her a free pardon.

Most Canadians are aware of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a racially segregated bus in Alabama, but Viola Desmond’s act of resistance occurred nine years earlier. However, many Canadians are still unaware of Desmond’s story or that racial segregation existed throughout many parts of Canada during most of the twentieth century. On the subject of race, Canadians seem to exhibit a form of collective amnesia. Viola Desmond’s Canada is a groundbreaking book that provides a concise overview of the narrative of the Black experience in Canada. Reynolds traces this narrative from slavery under French and British rule in the eighteenth century to the practice of racial segregation and the fight for racial equality in the twentieth century. Included are personal recollections by Wanda Robson, Viola Desmond’s youngest sister, together with important but previously unpublished documents and other primary sources in the history of Blacks in Canada.

*

When We Were Alone, by David Alexander Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett

Winner of the McNally Robinson Book for Young People Award (Manitoba Book Awards)

About the book: When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away. When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history, and, ultimately, one of empowerment and strength.

*

Tell Them It Was Mozart, by Angeline Schellenberg

Winner of the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book, Lansdowne Prize for Poetry, John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer (Manitoba Book Awards)

About the book: Through public judgments, detouring dreams and unspoken prayers, Tell Them It Was Mozart, Angeline Schellenberg's debut collection, traces both a slow bonding and the emergence of a defiant humour. This is a book that keens and cherishes, a work full of the earthiness and transcendence of mother-love. One of the pleasures of this collection is its playful range of forms: there are erasure poems, prose poems, lists, found poems, laments, odes, monologues and dialogues in the voices of the children, even an oulipo that deconstructs the DSM definition of autism. From a newborn "glossed and quivering" to a child conquering the fear of strange toilets, Tell Them It Was Mozart is bracing in its honesty, healing in its jubilance.

*

My Heart Fills With Happiness, by Monique Gray Smith and Julie Flett

Winner of the Christie Harris Illustrated Children's Book Prize (BC Book Prizes)

About the book: The sun on your face. The smell of warm bannock baking in the oven. Holding the hand of someone you love. What fills your heart with happiness? This beautiful board book, with illustrations from celebrated artist Julie Flett, serves as a reminder for little ones and adults alike to reflect on and cherish the moments in life that bring us joy.

International speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote My Heart Fills with Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families, and to encourage young children to reflect on what makes them happy.

*

Book Cover Mapping My Way Home

Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History, by Neil J. Sterritt

Winner of the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize (BC Book Prizes)

About the book: Today the adjacent villages of Gitanmaax and Hazelton form one of the most picturesque communities in all of western Canada—a tiny, tourism mecca nestled in Gitxsan territory at the foot of an iconic mountain in the heart of the Skeena watershed. But 150 years ago these neighbouring villages were the economic hub of the north when packers, traders, explorers, miners, surveyors and hundreds of tons of freight passed through from Port Essington on the coast east to the Omineca gold fields, from Quesnel north to Telegraph Creek.

Mapping My Way Home, winner of the 2017 Roderick Haig-Brown regional book prize, traces the journeys of the European explorers and adventurers who came to take advantage of the opportunities that converged at the junction of the Skeena and Bulkley rivers. The author, Gitxsan leader Neil Sterritt, also shares the stories of his people, stories both ancient and recent, to illustrate their resilience when faced with the challenges the newcomers brought.

And finally he shares his own journey from the wooden sidewalks of 1940s Hazelton to the world of international mining and back again to the Gitxsan ancestral village site of Temlaham where he helped his people fight for what had always been theirs in the ground-breakingDelgamuukw court case.

*

Trouble Makes a Comeback, by Stephanie Tromly

Winner of the McNally Robinson Books for Young People Award (Manitoba Book Awards)

About the book: Now that the infuriating and irresistible Philip Digby has left town for a lead on his sister who disappeared years ago, Zoe Webster is looking forward to a quiet spring semester. She's dating a cute quarterback, hanging out with new friends, and enjoying being "a normal." Which is of course when Digby comes back. He needs Zoe's help, and not just to find his sister.

Zoe can either choose to stay on her current path toward popularity, perfect SAT scores, and Princeton, or she can take a major detour with Digby, and maybe find out what that kiss he stole from her really meant. Digby and his over-the-top schemes always lead somewhere unexpected and Zoe's beginning to learn she might just like jumping into the unknown. When it comes to Digby, for Zoe at least, the choice might already be made.

*

The Break, by Katherena Vermette

Winner of the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award, the Carol Shields' Winnipeg Book Award, the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, Amazon First Novel Award

About the book: When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break—a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.

In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim—police, family, and friends—tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.

A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette’s abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature.

*

Embers, by Richard Wagamese

Winner of the Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice Award (BC Book Awards)

About the book: In this carefully curated selection of everyday reflections, Richard Wagamese finds lessons in both the mundane and sublime as he muses on the universe, drawing inspiration from working in the bush—sawing and cutting and stacking wood for winter as well as the smudge ceremony to bring him closer to the Creator. Embers is perhaps Richard Wagamese's most personal volume to date. Honest, evocative and articulate, he explores the various manifestations of grief, joy, recovery, beauty, gratitude, physicality and spirituality—concepts many find hard to express. But for Wagamese, spirituality is multifaceted. Within these pages, readers will find hard-won and concrete wisdom on how to feel the joy in the everyday things. Wagamese does not seek to be a teacher or guru, but these observations made along his own journey to become, as he says, "a spiritual bad-ass," make inspiring reading.

*

A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905, by Bill Waiser 

Winner of the University of Saskatchewan Non-Fiction Award (Saskatchewan Book Awards)

About the book: A World We Have Lost examines the early history of Saskatchewan through an Aboriginal and environmental lens. Indian and mixed—descent peoples played leading roles in the story-as did the land and climate. Despite the growing British and Canadian presence, the Saskatchewan country remained Aboriginal territory. The region's peoples had their own interests and needs and the fur trade was often peripheral to their lives. Indians and Métis peoples wrangled over territory and resources, especially bison, and were not prepared to let outsiders control their lives, let alone decide their future. Native—newcomer interactions were consequently fraught with misunderstandings, sometimes painful difficulties, if not outright disputes. 

By the early nineteenth century, a distinctive western society had emerged in the North-West—one that was challenged and undermined by the takeover of the region by young dominion of Canada. Settlement and development was to be rooted in the best features of Anglo-Canadian civilization, including the white race. By the time Saskatchewan entered confederation as a province in 1905, the world that Kelsey had encountered during his historic walk on the northern prairies had become a world we have lost.

*

Strange Things Done, by Elle Wild 

Winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel, Sponsored by Kobo

About the book: As winter closes in and the roads snow over in Dawson City, Yukon, newly arrived journalist Jo Silver investigates the dubious suicide of a local politician and quickly discovers that not everything in the sleepy tourist town is what it seems. Before long, law enforcement begins treating the death as a possible murder and Jo is the prime suspect.
Strange Things Done is a top-notch thriller—a tense and stylish crime novel that explores the double themes of trust and betrayal.

*

Notes from a Feminist Killjoy: Essays on Everyday Life, by Erin Wunker

Winner of the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award (Atlantic Book Awards)

About the book: Following in the tradition of Sara Ahmed (the originator of the concept "feminist killjoy"), Wunker brings memoir, theory, literary criticism, pop culture, and feminist thinking together in this collection of essays that take up Ahmed's project as a multi-faceted lens through which to read the world from a feminist point of view.

Neither totemic nor complete, the non-fiction essays that make up Notes from a Feminist Killjoy: Essays on Everyday Life attempt to think publicly about why we need feminism, and especially why we need the figure of the feminist killjoy, now. From the complicated practices of being a mother and a feminist, to building friendship amongst women as a community-building and -sustaining project, to writing that addresses rape culture from the Canadian context and beyond, Notes from a Feminist Killjoy: Essays on Everyday Life invites the reader into a conversation about gender, feminism, and living in our inequitable world.

May 31, 2017
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