Great Companions

If you're going to read one book....you might as well read two. Our "Great Companions" feature connects the dots between some of the season's most talked-about books. 

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History Meets the Present Day

My True and Complete Adventures as a Wannabe Voyageur, by Phyllis Rudin, and Lost in September, by Kathleen Winter

About My True and Complete Adventures as a Wannabe Voyageur: In this coming-of-age story, Benjie Gabai is convinced he’s been the victim of a terrible cosmic hoax. Instead of being born in the 18th century as a French-Canadian voyageur, God has plunked him down in present-day Montreal, into a family that views his fur trade obsession as proof that their Benjie, once so bursting with promise, has well and truly lost it. Benjie serves out his days as caretaker of The Bay’s poky in-store fur trade museum, dusting and polishing the artifacts that fuel his imagination. When he learns his museum is about to be closed down, scattering his precious collection to the four winds, he hatches a plan that risks bringing his voyageur illusions lapping dangerously up against reality.

My True and Complete Adventures as a Wannabe Voyageur melds Canadian frontier history with the madcap adventures of a young man who is not ready to meet adulthood head on.

About Lost in SeptemberFrom one of Canada's most exciting writers comes a gripping, compassionate and stunning novel that overturns and rewrites history. Enter the world of Jimmy—a tall, red-haired, homeless thirty-something ex-soldier, battered by PTSD—as he camps out on the streets of modern-day Montreal, trying to remember and reclaim his youth. While his past is something of an enigma, even to himself, the young man bears a striking resemblance to General James Wolfe, "Conqueror of Canada" and "Hero of Quebec," who died on the Plains of Abraham in 1759.

As a young soldier in his twenties, the historical James Wolfe (1727-1759) was granted a short and much longed-for leave to travel to Paris to study poetry, music and dance–three of his passions. But in that very year, 1752, the British Empire abandoned the Julian calendar for the Gregorian, and every citizen of England lost eleven days: September 2 was followed by September 14. These lost eleven days happened to occur during the period that Wolfe had been granted for his leave. Despondent and bitter, he never got the chance to explore his artistic bent, and seven short years later, on the anniversary of this foreshortened leave, he died on the Plains of Abraham.

Now, James is getting his eleven days back . . . but instead of the salons of 18th century Paris, he's wandering the streets of present-day Montreal and Quebec City, not as "the Hero of Quebec" but as a damaged war veteran wracked with anguish. Much like George Saunders in Lincoln in the Bardo, award-winning author Kathleen Winter takes a brief, intensely personal incident in the life of a famous historical figure, and using her incomparable gifts as a fiction writer, powerfully reimagines him. Here is a wrenching, unforgettable portrait—like none you have ever seen or read—of one of the most well-known figures in Canadian history.

 

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Stories from Doctors

Your Heart is the Size of Your Fist, by Martina Scholtens M.D., and Life on the Ground Floor, by Dr. James Maskalyk

About Your Heart is the Size of Your FistYour Heart Is the Size of Your Fist draws readers into the complicated, poignant, and often-overlooked daily happenings of a busy urban medical clinic for refugees.

An Iraqi journalist whose son has been been murdered develops post-traumatic stress disorder and mourns his loss of vocation. A Congolese woman refuses antiretroviral treatment for her new HIV diagnosis, and instead places her trust in Jesus. Two conservative Muslim Iraqi women are inadvertently exposed to pornography when a doctor uses Google Images to supplement a medical discussion. By turns humorous, distressing, and moving, these stories offer insight into the people seeking a new life while navigating poverty, language barriers, and neighbours who aren’t always friendly.

This riveting collection of true stories from Dr. Martina Scholtens is filled with hope and humour, and together make up a deeply moving portrait of how one doctor attempts to provide quality care and advocacy for patients while remaining culturally sensitive, even as she wrestles with guilt, awareness of her own privilege, the faith she was raised with, and vicarious trauma after hearing countless stories of brutality and suffering.

In the spirit of Louise Aronson and Atul Gawande, Scholtens’ writing is based on her personal experiences and explores the transformative moments in which a clinical doctor-patient relationship becomes a profound human-human connection.

About Life on the Ground FloorIn this deeply personal book, humanitarian doctor and activist James Maskalyk, author of the highly acclaimed Six Months in Sudan, draws upon his experience treating patients in the world's emergency rooms. From Toronto to Addis Ababa, Cambodia to Bolivia, he discovers that although the cultures, resources and medical challenges of each hospital may differ, they are linked indelibly by the ground floor: the location of their emergency rooms. Here, on the ground floor, is where Dr. Maskalyk witnesses the story of "human aliveness"—our mourning and laughter, tragedies and hopes, the frailty of being and the resilience of the human spirit. And it's here too that he is swept into the story, confronting his fears and doubts and questioning what it is to be a doctor. 

Masterfully written and artfully structured, Life on the Ground Floor is more than just an emergency doctor's memoir or travelogue—it's a meditation on health, sickness and the wonder of human life.

 

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X-Files Homages

Book Cover The Winnowing

The Winnowing, by Vikki VanSickle, and X-Files: Earth Children are Weird, illustrated by Kim Smith

About The Winnowing: In a world where the familiar has sinister undertones, two friends are torn apart just when they need one another most. Can they both survive?

Marivic Stone lives in a small world, and that’s fine with her. Home is with her beloved grandfather in a small town that just happens to be famous for a medical discovery that saved humankind — though not without significant repercussions. Marivic loves her best friend, Saren, and the two of them promise to stick together, through thick and thin, and especially through the uncertain winnowing procedure, a now inevitable—but dangerous—part of adolescence.

But when tragedy separates the two friends, Marivic is thrust into a world of conspiracy, rebellion and revolution. For the first time in her life, Marivic is forced to think and act big. If she is going to avenge Saren and right a decade of wrongs, she will need to trust her own frightening new abilities, even when it means turning her back on everything, and everyone, she’s known and loved. A gripping exploration of growing up, love and loss, The Winnowing is a page-turning adventure that will have readers rooting for their new hero, Marivic Stone, as they unravel the horror and intrigue of a world at once familiar but with a chilling strangeness lurking beneath the everyday. 

Read more from Vikki VanSickle on how her fifth novel for kids is also a love letter to the X-Files

Book Cover X-Files Earth Children are WEird

About X-Files: Earth Children are Weird: One the most beloved TV shows of all time is now a sweet, silly, sci-fi bedtime story perfect for kids and their parents!

Best pals Dana (Scully) and Fox (Mulder) have pitched a tent in the backyard for a sleepover. But the night is full of strange sounds, lights, and shadows. Surely there’s a rational, scientific explanation for everything . . . or is there? With beautiful illustrations of pint-sized Dana and Fox, this humorous and not-scary-at-all story will introduce the cult TV show to an entire new generation of fans.

 

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Celebrating Canadian Delicacies

Snacks: A Canadian Food History, by Janis Thiessen, and Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip, by Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller

About Snacks: A Canadian Food History: Snacks is a history of Canadian snack foods, of the independent producers and workers who make them, and of the consumers who can’t put them down. 

Janis Thiessen profiles several iconic Canadian snack food companies, including Old Dutch Potato Chips, Hawkins Cheezies, and chocolate maker Ganong. These companies have developed in distinctive ways, reflecting the unique stories of their founders and their intense connection to specific locations. 

These stories of salty or sweet confections also reveal a history that is at odds with popular notions of “junk food.” Through extensive oral history and archival research, Thiessen uncovers the roots of our deep loyalties to different snack foods, what it means to be an independent snack food producer, and the often-quirky ways snacks have been created and marketed.

Clearly written, extensively illustrated, and lavish with detail about some of Canadians’ favorite snacks, this is a lively and entertaining look at food and labour history.

About Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road TripIn the midst of a camping trip in Squamish, British Columbia, Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller decided that the summer of 2013 might be the right time for an adventure. And they knew what they wanted that adventure to be: a road trip across the entire country, with the purpose of writing about Canada's food, culture, and wealth of compelling characters and their stories.

37,000 kilometres later, and toting a "Best Culinary Travel Blog" award from Saveur magazine, Lindsay and Dana have brought together stories, photographs and recipes from across Canada in Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip. The authors write about their experiences of trying whale blubber in Nunavut, tying a GoPro to a fishing line in Newfoundland to get a shot of the Atlantic Ocean's "cod highway," and much more. 

More than 80 contributors—including farmers, grandmothers, First Nations elders, and acclaimed chefs—have shared over 90 of their most beloved regional recipes, with Lindsay and Dana contributing some of their own favourites too. You'll find recipes for all courses from Barley Pancakes, Yukon Cinnamon Buns, and Bannock to Spot Prawn Ceviche, Bison Sausage Rolls, Haida Gwaii Halibut and Maritime Lobster Rolls; and also recipes for preserves, pickles and sauces, and a whole chapter devoted to drinks.

Feast is a stunning representation of the diversity and complexity of Canada through its many favourite foods. The combination of Lindsay and Dana's capitivating journey with easy-to-follow recipes makes the book just as pleasurable to read as it is to cook from.

 

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Great Novels Exploring Political Backrooms and the Perils of Work Spouses

Glass Beads, by Dawn Dumont, and Just Like Family, by Kate Hilton

About Glass BeadsThese short stories interconnect the friendships of four First Nations people—Everett Kaiswatim, Nellie Gordon, Julie Papequash, and Nathan (Taz) Mosquito—as the collection evolves over two decades against the cultural, political, and historical backdrop of the 90s and early 2000s.

These young people are among the first of their families to live off the reserve for most of their adult lives, and must adapt and evolve. In stories like “Stranger Danger”, we watch how shy Julie, though supported by her roomies, is filled with apprehension as she goes on her first white-guy date, while years later in “Two Years Less A Day” we witness her change as her worries and vulnerability are put to the real test when she is unjustly convicted in a violent melee and must serve some jail time. “The House and Things That Can Be Taken” establishes how the move from the city both excites and intimidate reserve youth — respectively, how a young man finds a job or a young woman becomes vulnerable in the bar scene. As well as developing her characters experientially, Dumont carefully contrasts them, as we see in the fragile and uncertain Everett and the culturally strong and independent but reckless Taz.

As the four friends experience family catastrophes, broken friendships, travel to Mexico, and the aftermath of the great tragedy of 9/11, readers are intimately connected with each struggle, whether it is with racism, isolation, finding their cultural identity, or repairing the wounds of their upbringing.

About Just Like Family: From the nationally bestselling author of The Hole in the Middle, a witty, insightful new novel about juggling the demands of three husbands—a work husband, an almost husband and an ex-husband—and figuring out the true meaning of family.

Avery Graham has built a life that anyone would admire. She has a brilliant career as chief of staff to Peter Haines, the charismatic mayor of Toronto. She has a devoted partner in Matt, her live-in boyfriend of fourteen years. And she has a loving family and deep friendships that stretch back to childhood summers at the cottage.

But when Matt proposes, Avery’s past threatens to engulf her present. Can she contemplate a lifetime commitment to Matt after her disastrous first marriage to Hugh? And is Matt really the love of her life, when she has spent so much of it by Peter’s side? Avery could use some good advice from the women who know her best, but her closest friends, Jenny and Tara, have drifted away over the years. 

When a scandal erupts at city hall, Avery must overcome her deepest fears about love and loss and discover what it means to be a family.

 

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The Secret Histories of Canadian Literature

Arrival, by Nick Mount, and The Dusty Bookcase, by Brian Busby

About ArrivalIn the mid-twentieth century, Canadian literature transformed from a largely ignored trickle of books into an enormous cultural phenomenon that produced Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Mordecai Richler, and so many others. In Arrival, acclaimed writer and critic Nick Mount answers the question: What caused the CanLit Boom?

Written with wit and panache, Arrival tells the story of Canada’s literary awakening. Interwoven with Mount’s vivid tale are enlightening mini-biographies of the people who made it happen, from superstars Leonard Cohen and Marie-Claire Blais to lesser-known lights like the troubled and impassioned Harold Sonny Ladoo. The full range of Canada’s literary boom is here: the underground exploits of the blew ointment and Tish gangs; revolutionary critical forays by highbrow academics; the blunt-force trauma of our plain-spoken backwoods poetry; and the urgent political writing that erupted from the turmoil in Quebec.

Published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, Arrival is a dazzling, variegated, and inspired piece of writing that helps explain how we got from there to here.

About The Dusty BookcaseBrian Busby’s The Dusty Bookcase explores the fascinating world of Canada’s lesser-known literary history: works that suffered censorship, critical neglect, or brilliant yet fleeting notoriety. These rare and quirky totems of Canadiana, collected over the last three decades, form a travel diary of sorts—through books instead of maps. Covering over one hundred books, and peppered with observations on the Canadian writing and publishing scenes, Busby’s work explores our cultural past from a unique slant, questioning why certain works, rightfully or otherwise, are celebrated and others ignored.

Illustrated throughout with covers and ephemera, The Dusty Bookcase offers up a casual but nonetheless critical and entertaining exploration of Canada's suppressed, ignored, and forgotten literature, and in the process a curious examination of what we read, when we read it, and why.

 

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Smart Twists on Halloween

The Walking Bathroom, by Shauntay Grant and illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks, and Leah's Mustache Party, by Nadia Mike and Charlene Chua

About The Walking Bathroom: It's Halloween and Amayah doesn't have a costume to wear to school. She dressed as a ghost for the last three years in a row, witches are overdone, and fairies are not her style. She wants to be something different, something creative, something no one else in the world has ever been in the history of Halloween.

A sweet story of standing out and fitting in, The Walking Bathroom is the newest book from award-winning author and spoken-word poet Shauntay Grant (Up Home). With fun, vibrant artwork from Erin Bennett Banks (Change of Heart), this imaginative tale is bound to inspire some unique costumes and become a Halloween favourite!

 About Leah's Moustache PartyFour-year-old Leah loved being a pirate for Halloween. She never considered being a princess or a fairy, no matter what her friends said. 

But once Halloween has come and gone, Leah misses so many things about her costume. She misses her sword. She misses saying "Arrrr!" But most of all, she misses her silly mustache. 

Except Leah knows that it doesn't have to be Halloween to play dress up. She can wear a mustache whenever she wants! She can wear one while she's watching a movie, or riding her bike, or playing her favourite game. 

So when Leah's birthday finally arrives, she knows exactly what she wants to do: have a party where everyone must wear a mustache! At Leah's mustache party, everyone gets in on the dress—up fun, even Grandma!

September 25, 2017
Books mentioned in this post
Your Heart Is the Size of Your Fist

Your Heart Is the Size of Your Fist

A Doctor Reflects on Ten Years at a Refugee Clinic
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Feast

Feast

Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip
edition:Hardcover
tagged : canadian
More Info
Just Like Family

Just Like Family

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Paperback
tagged : contemporary
More Info
Arrival

Arrival

The Story of CanLit
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
More Info
The Dusty Bookcase

The Dusty Bookcase

A Journey Through Canada's Forgotten, Neglected, and Suppressed Writing
edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian
More Info
The Walking Bathroom

The Walking Bathroom

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
tagged : halloween
More Info
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