The Recommend for September 2018

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 Sarah Selecky, author of Radiant Shimmering Light; Jennifer Robson, author of the forthcoming The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding; Alix Hawley, author of My Name Is a Knife; Deborah Willis, author of The Dark and Other Love Stories; and Kerry Clare, author of Mitzi Bytes. IMPORTANT NOTE: This week's recommendations are part of a larger series launched in 2017 where we asked 150 Canadian authors to recommend 150 Canadian books. It's pretty awesome, so do check it out!

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Sarah Selecky recommends Sarah Henstra's Mad Miss Mimic

Readers of adult literary fiction might not have heard about this lovely book, because it’s officially published as teen and YA fiction. I recommend it to older readers, too! I loved getting lost in this subtle thriller about London in the 1870s, when the city was experiencing violent terror attacks and opium fever. This historical page-turner has everything: compelling characters, a love story, mystery, and danger. It’s such a pleasure to read. And once you see the connection to what’s happening with contemporary opioids, it also feels remarkably relevant.

Sarah Selecky is the author of the Giller Prize-nominated This Cake Is for the Party and most recently Radiant Shimmering Light. You can check out her awesome blog post on rebels, misfits and seekers—and her admiration for audacious writers.

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Jennifer Robson recommends Michael Kaan's The Water Beetles

I first read The Water Beetles, Michael Kaan’s debut novel, earlier this year, and was astonished by the calm and measured clarity of his prose, the depth of feeling he brings to his narrative, and the assurance with which he presents the point of view of his hero, 12-year-old Chung-Man. The story has its origins in Kaan’s grandfather’s experiences of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and mainland China during the Second World War, but it is far more than a straightforward retelling of one boy’s struggles and suffering. Kaan never resorts to brutal descriptions of the very real horrors of the occupation, and his narrative is all the more powerful and affecting for it. With delicacy, precision, and no small amount of grace, Kaan illuminates a corner of the deadliest war in human history, and ably demonstrates the worth, the weight, and the enduring significance of our shared past.

Jennifer Robson is the author of Goodnight from London, After the War Is Over, and Somewhere In France. Her new novel, The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding, will be published in January 2018. You can see her recommendations for WW1 reading here.

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Alix Hawley recommends Elizabeth Hay's Small Change

Elizabeth Hay is known for her novels, but her short stories in Small Change (first published in 1997) make my hair stand on end. Part of that is recognition—you know the quiet saboteurs and complainers and almost-lovers here. Part is the deep pleasure of clear writing. But there is also the surprise of a writer setting her fiction loose. The best writers don't judge their characters, yet Hay goes beyond that, tying hers up in knots and leaving them to act as they will. You can feel the moments when they set off walking and talking fully on their own.

Sure, plenty of authors create believable humans, but this reads differently, as if Hay's people are writing themselves. It makes a quiet, realistic book almost eerie. Diving right into the bog of friendship, Small Change contains all kinds of intimacies. The one between Hay and her characters stays with me most.

Alix Hawley won the 2017 CBC Short Story Award. Her first novel, All True and Not a Lie In It, won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and was longlisted for the Giller Prize. Her new novel, My Name Is a Knife, is out this fall.

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Deborah Willis recommends Zoey Leigh Peterson's Next Year for Sure

This novel, about a couple who tries having an open relationship, is complex, intelligent, and addictive—a true literary page-turner. When Chris confides to his partner Katherine that he has a crush on Emily, Katherine decides that she won’t stand in his way: “She was going to be cool and evolved, like a Joni Mitchell song.” And from there, Peterson propels the plot forward in ways that surprise but always feel real. The writing about sexuality is honest without being exploitative, and Peterson dissects her characters’ motivations in stylish, bright, precise prose. The book’s structure is breathtakingly artful, confined to one year, and each scene and image seems perfectly placed. Even when reading this for a second time, I couldn’t put it down. This is a book about openness and loss and jealousy and emotional generosity. In short, this book will resonate with anyone who’s ever encountered the complications of love.

Deborah Willis’s second book, The Dark and Other Love Stories, was recently published by Penguin. It was longlisted for the Giller Prize and was the winner of the 2018 Western Canada Jewish Book Awards.

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Kerry Clare recommends Marilyn Dumont’s A Really Good Brown Girl

I read Marilyn Dumont’s Gerald Lampert-winning debut collection, A Really Good Brown Girl, in a few days, captivated by the narrative, the language, the brute force of these poems, as well as their sense of humour, their cheek. “Squaw Poems,” about growing up Metis on the prairies, a household surrounded by “The White Judges” who waited to pounce. And never really went away.

From: “Letter to Sir John A. MacDonald”:

Dear John: I’m still here and halfbreed,/ after all these years/ you’re dead, funny thing… / because you know as well as I/ that we were railroaded/ by some steel tracks that didn’t last/ and some settlers who would settle/ and it’s funny we’re still here and callin’ ourselves halfbreed.

Kerry Clare is 49th Shelf’s editor, the author of Mitzi Bytes, and the editor of The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood.

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September 6, 2018
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