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My Favourite Books of 2017 (...so far)
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My Favourite Books of 2017 (...so far)

By kerryclare
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These are the Canadian books that have been delighting me this year...
What is Going to Happen Next

What is Going to Happen Next

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Karen Hofmann's empathetic and cathartic novel, What is Going to Happen Next, pieces together the lives of five members of the Lund family following their enforced dispersal after the death of the father and the hospitalization of the mother in the remote West Coast community of Butterfly Lake. It explores their self-doubts and aspirations in the ways they cope with their separation and reunion through their work and personal relationships, and reveals the ways in which their past is filtered th …

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We All Love the Beautiful Girls

We All Love the Beautiful Girls

edition:Paperback

Who do the lucky become when their luck sours?

One frigid winter night, the happily prosperous Mia and Michael Slate discover that a close friend and business partner has cheated them out of their life savings. On the same night, their son, Finn, passes out in the snow at a party — a mistake with shattering consequences.

Everyone finds their own ways of coping with the ensuing losses. For Finn, it’s Jess, a former babysitter who sneaks into his bed at night, even as she refuses to leave her …

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Annie Muktuk and Other Stories

Annie Muktuk and Other Stories

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

I woke up with Moses Henry’s boot holding open my jaw and my right eye was looking into his gun barrel. I heard the slow words, “Take. It. Back.” I know one thing about Moses Henry; he means business when he means business. I took it back and for the last eight months I have not uttered Annie Mukluk’s name.

In strolls Annie Mukluk in all her mukiness glory. Tonight she has gone traditional. Her long black hair is wrapped in intu’dlit braids. Only my mom still does that. She’s got mukl …

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Hunting Houses

Hunting Houses

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Tessa is a thirty-seven-year-old real estate agent living in Montreal. She adores her husband and three young sons, but she’s deeply unhappy and questioning the set of choices that have led to her present life.

After a surprising run-in with Francis, her ex-boyfriend and first love, Tessa arranges to see him. During the three days before their meeting, she goes about her daily life — there’s swimming lessons, science projects, and dirty dishes. As the day of her meeting with Francis draws c …

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Excerpt

Évelyne is crying in earnest now. I take her hand. I say yes, her house is fabulous. I myself would buy it if I could. It will make some family very happy just as hers was for several years.

My client nods, I know she finds the idea comforting — all my clients do. There must be some solace in thinking your house will go on living apart from you, like an extension, a promise renewed no matter the hardships or failures, bestowing sudden meaning on sorrow. Personally, it's all a mystery to me since I have no desire to see others blossom where I once withered away — but then I'm not a very nice person.

Évelyne shows me the rest of her house: two children's bedrooms. In the first room, a cream-coloured quilt in a delicate pattern of pink and pale-green buttercups and peonies. A number of lively drawings on the walls, all signed SOLENE. In the second bedroom, blue and green stripes, dinosaur figurines, wood letters painted red hanging on the door: MATTEO. Évelyne was astute enough to keep the walls white. It won't be as difficult for potential buyers to project their own lives onto them — nothing is less helpful than a pink bedroom covered in princess decals for the morale of a mother with two sons who longs for the daughter she never had and hopes to find in her new abode the secret formula that will at last guarantee her the perfect family she's dreamt of since childhood. I respond to the client with all the solicitude I can muster, Who knows, this house could be a lucky charm, but when, guilt-ridden at having downplayed the worth of the children she does have, she grabs hold of my arm, My boys are wonderful, I love them so much, after all, what counts is that they're healthy, no? Do you have children? and I answer, Yes, three boys, for the space of a second, she's caught between wanting to be me and relief that she isn't. Her coral lips give the faintest, saddest smile ever smiled and she murmurs: Three boys. That's quite something, isn't it.

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Boundary

Boundary

edition:Paperback
tagged : suspense, literary

Longlisted for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize

In the deep woods of the Maine borderlands, the legend of huntsman Pete Landry is still told around cottage campfires to scare children, a tragic story of love, lust, and madness. During the early summer of 1967, inseparable teenage beauties Sissy Morgan and Zaza Mulligan wander among the vacation cottages in the community of Boundary, drinking and smoking and swearing, attracting the attention of boys and men. First one, and then the other, goes mi …

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The Slip

The Slip

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : humorous, literary

In this wickedly funny novel, one bad afternoon and two regrettable comments make the inimitable Philip Sharpe go viral for all the worst reasons.

Dr. Philip Sharpe, absent-minded professor extraordinaire, teaches philosophy at the University of Toronto and is one of Canada’s most combative public intellectuals. But when a live TV debate with his fiercest rival goes horribly off the rails, an oblivious Philip says some things to her that he really shouldn’t have.

As a clip of Philip’s “sli …

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Excerpt

Monday, November 2

I would have run to little Naomi when she cried out, except I had to get the poppy to stay on. That seemed paramount as I stood in the master bedroom at 4 Metcalfe Street, getting ready for my TV appearance. The producer at CBC’s Power Today had emailed us all with her fourth reminder since Friday morning. Okay, folks: We’re in Remembrance Day mode as of Monday, so we ask all on-air guests to have the poppy prominently displayed for broadcast. We won’t have a box of them in the studio yet, so please bring your own. Should go on the left, over your heart. Yes, yes. I had a track record for being one of these careless dolts who loses four or five poppies to the wind and just gives up somewhere around November 7. I imagined hundreds of those plastic-and-felt florets I’d bought over the years clogging the gutters of Cabbagetown and the Annex, and the goddamn veterans counting up their gold like Scrooge McDuck. The things were clearly engineered to fall off. It became critical, in that moment, to get it fastened correctly. More critical than whatever else I planned to wear — brown tweed over blue shirt and some pleasantly centrist slacks — or my efforts to sooth the ginger flare of comb-over that sprang across my skull like the facehugger from Alien. (Cheryl Sneed, my fellow panellist and long-time nemesis on the Right, would make some green room remark about it, regardless. Either that or the wisp of PEI accent that still warped my rhotics — which I hammed up whenever I was in her presence, because I knew it annoyed her.) And, perhaps, more critical even than what my three-year-old daughter was screaming about down the hall, in the bathroom. Grace was on it, anyway. I heard her fly out of Naomi’s bedroom with a panicked Sweetie, are you OKAY? followed by a quick gush from the faucet. I plucked the poppy off my bureau, fluttered it like a parasol in the mirror. Wait — where was my tweed? Oh right, of course. I hurried into the hallway.
“Philip. Philip, are you there?”
I was not. I bounded up the stairs to my third-floor office, zagging around the Dora the Explorer doll lying on the hardwood beneath my feet. Entering my office, I found the tweed where I last left it: thrown over the arm of the futon. I nabbed the jacket and laid it flat across my desk, moving manuscript printouts from my next book (tentatively called “Christianity and Its Dissidents”) out of the way. I bent over and manoeuvred the flower over the lapel. I poked the steel pin into the pure virgin wool and pressed the poppy in as deep as it would go. Then I raised the jacket up and looked at it. Already the plastic blossom had slid a few millimetres out of the lapel.
Grace’s voice echoed from the hall and through the open office door.
“Philip — seriously, are you there or not?”
Just a minute, dear. I returned the jacket to the futon arm and then moved to the overflowing bookshelf on the opposite wall. I pulled down my author copy of Corporate Canada Today (Tuxedo House, 2014) and quickly confirmed a few facts about ODS Financial Group, which would be the subject of this afternoon’s Power Today interview. Yes, yes. Managing partner since ’99: Viktor Grozni. CFO: the lovely and talented Glenda Harkins-Smith. Market cap before the 2008 crash. Market cap just before Friday’s announcement. Number of Canadians with pensions directly managed by. Number of ancillary businesses shareholders had no idea existed. Amount of direct subsidy from the Harper Conservatives since 2011. Yes, yes. It was already there, all of it, in my head. Cheryl Sneed didn’t stand a chance.
Time to throw the jacket on and quickly help Grace with whatever she and Naomi were dealing with in the bathroom (the child had stopped screaming, but continued with a kind of hiccupy crying that seemed to reverberate through the whole house) before heading downtown. I turned and reached for my tweed, only to have my gaze hauled to the floor. There on the hardwood lay my poppy, face down like a drunkard.
Oh, that is it, I thought. Fucking veterans.
I grabbed the tweed and picked up the poppy before storming back down the stairs. Time for Plan B.
“Philip — Philip can you please come here.”
I hustled down to the main floor. Stole a glance at the clock on the kitchen wall. Oh God. I hurried to the door leading to our basement. My basement, since Grace and the kids rarely went down there. More oubliette than man cave, it had a set of stairs that descended almost vertically into that dark, unfinished gizzard. I marched down and popped on the light, which only marginally diminished the darkness, then went to my small workbench with the poppy and jacket in tow. I rested the tweed flat and placed the scarlet bloom onto the lapel. Then I grabbed the industrial stapler I had bought at Canadian Tire to assemble some rather complicated birthday party decorations for my stepdaughter, Simone, when she turned thirteen a few weeks ago. The tool was heavy in my hand, like a weapon. I clamped one end of the nozzle over the flower and tucked the other under the tweed.
BLAM! BLAM!
There. Perfect. Well, not perfect. I held the jacket up once more. Hopefully the CBC’s cameras were not so HD that they would pick up the tiny planks of metal that now held the poppy in place.
I hiked back up to the main floor, throwing the jacket on as I did. Moving to holler upstairs to Grace, I turned to see that she and Naomi were already in the kitchen, waiting for me. My wife leaned against the counter, arms folded over her chest, her bottom lip tucked under her top teeth, her head tilted. Oh, she was mad. I briefly scanned the kitchen for the source of her rage. Surely I hadn’t forgotten to clean up the wreckage of the Bloody Joseph (my third since breakfast): the inedible stump of celery sequestered in the compost, the tin of tomato juice washed out and blue-binned, the celery salt resuming its place in the spice rack, and various other accoutrements returned to their sentry posts in my bar fridge. But no. The kitchen was spotless, as per our agreement.
“Oh, hey,” I ventured. “Look, I’m running late but would you mind —”
“Did you not hear me calling you?”
What was I to say to that?
“I’m pretty sure you did hear me calling you, Philip,” she went on, “because I could hear you shuffling in the hallway outside the bathroom as I did.”
“I wasn’t ’shuffling,’” I said. “I was getting ready for this CBC thing. Look —”
“The tub faucet upstairs still isn’t working right.”
“Yes, it is,” I disagreed, stupidly. I had showered earlier in the day, as had Simone before she’d gone to school. (It wasn’t apparent whether Grace had had her shower yet.) But she was, technically, right — the tub faucet was still plagued with a peculiar problem: the cold water tap would spew piping-hot water for nearly a minute after you turned it on. It was the latest in a series of bathroom issues we’d been having. You’d think that for the ungodly sum I paid for 4 Metcalfe Street six years ago when we got married, we’d have a fully functional bathroom — not to mention a finished basement. But no, no.
“You were supposed to get it fixed,” Grace said, “like, three weeks ago. And now —”
“It’s on my list. You know it’s on my list.”
“And now what I feared would happen — what I knew would happen if you didn’t get it fixed — has happened. Naomi went in there before I realized and turned on the tap and scalded herself.”
“I had to take a pewp,” Naomi informed me with a sniffle, and displayed her reddened right wrist.
I looked at her. “Did, did you poop in the tub, sweetie?”
“She didn’t poop in the tub,” Grace barked. “Philip, you’re missing the point. Did you not hear your daughter scream out and start crying?”
I did. Of course I did. But I knew — or at least assumed — that Grace had things well in hand. Which she did.
My eyes flicked to the wall clock. Jesus.
“Look, what do you want from me?” I tried a half smile. “I fixed the sink up there, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you fixed the sink — after I nagged you about it for five months. What, do you want a medal for that?”
“Grace —”
“I’m serious, Philip. Would you like a prize for fixing the sink? We could write to the French government and get them to create a new international award for plumbing, and give it to you. They could call it the Douche d’Or.”
“You’re hilarious,” I deadpanned, but then chuckled on the inside. She must have been sitting on that joke for weeks.
I shrugged at her. “Look, what can I say? I’m not handy. You know that. This kind of stuff stresses me out, and I have enough stress in my life right now. I’m teaching two courses this term. I’ve got the new book. I’ve got the thesis defence I’m chairing in a few weeks, and …” My eyes floated back to the clock. “I’ve got this CBC thing this afternoon.”
“So you don’t have time to pick up the phone and call a plumber, is what you’re saying.”
“It’s not about calling a plumber, Grace. It’s about having the headspace to figure out if there are any plumbers left in this city who haven’t screwed us over.”
“You weren’t teaching in the summer,” she pointed out. “You could have done it then.”
“Yes, but I had a breakthrough with the book, and …” I pinched my nose, sighed. In that moment, I longed for my old life, before we bought this huge, and hugely expensive, house in Cabbagetown. For sixteen years prior to marrying Grace, I had lived in a loft in the Annex. If the sink broke, the landlord came and fixed it. Which felt like something that only happened in fairy tales, now.
“Look,” I went on, “just because I wasn’t teaching doesn’t mean I had the capacity to deal with …” And yes, I said it then; the words just flew out of me. “… a bunch of domestic trifles.”
“Wow,” she said, long and slow, and blinked at me. “So I guess what you’re saying is it’s really my responsibility, because you’ve got all that,” and here she mock-furrowed her brow at me, “deep thinking to do.”
“Oh, come on, Grace.”
But she took a step toward me then, her backside leaving the counter. In one fluid motion, she jutted her hip out, picked up Naomi, and parked the child upon it. Engaging, she was, in that most basic act of motherwork: to hold her child close. Then Grace threw back her thick, curly hair — sporting a henna dye job she’d acquired a few months ago, one I thoroughly approved of when she first modelled it for me, burying my face in its waves later that night, in bed — and looked at me with those wild, emerald eyes of hers.

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Glass Beads

Glass Beads

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

These 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 …

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Excerpt

From “Stranger Danger”

 

Nellie was struggling with an English paper. She hated the class.  Her professor had intoned at the beginning of class: “There are no right answers, only answers that you had to argue for.”  Nellie hated open-ended shit.  She just wanted to know which argument would give her an A.

 

She called Everett.  There was no answer.  He had no answering machine but he had call display and it told him how many times she called.  Right now if he would see: twelve.

 

She had been angry six calls ago.  Now she was just disappointed.  And horny.   

 

She opened up her political science binder, it was filled with photocopied readings.  She had to read about Aristotle even though she’d already read about him in Philosophy.  It must be nice to straddle two subjects with the same boring writing.  She went to the kitchen to refill her tea.  She was drinking green tea these days, it was supposed to fire up her metabolism by getting rid of all the free radicals lurking in her body.  She didn’t know what those were but Oprah said they were bad.  Nellie hadn’t lost a pound but then again it was hard to eat healthy when the entire apartment smelled like pizza.

 

Nellie padded into the kitchen and saw a pizza container on the counter.  She squelched a scream of frustration.  She opened the pizza box; it was sausage and pepperoni.  The top of the box was rimmed in dark where the fat had soaked into the cardboard.

 

Nellie spit on the pizza and spread the spit over the top of it with her finger.  She was closing the box carefully when the front door opened.

 

She looked around the corner as Julie stalked past her.  Nellie hurried behind her.

 

Julie sat on Nellie’s bed, her head against the wall.  Julie’s bedroom was the living room so during the day she used Nellie’s. It wasn’t the best situation but Nellie didn’t feel like giving up the extra rent money.

 

“So?”

 

“He’s ok, I guess.”

 

Nellie started small. “Did you have fun?”

 

“I guess.”

 

“Did you make out with him?”

 

“No.”

 

“Did you want to?”

 

“I dunno.  He’s so… bleh.”  Julie made a damn-I-just-stepped-in-dog-poop-and-I’m-wearing-sandals-face.

 

“Okay then.” Nellie’s disappointment was writ clear. 

 

“He wants to see me this weekend.  So I told him I work this weekend and then he’s all like what about before work and so I said yes but I don’t want to go.  He wants to go hang out at the park - what the fuck is at the park?”

 

“There’s ducks.”

 

“You and Everett ever go to the park?”

 

Nellie and Everett never went anywhere together.  It was her house or his.  Sometimes she saw him at the bar and she would wave to him and he would act like he was gonna come over but he never got to where she was sitting.

 

One time she asked him to meet her at Place Riel at the University.  She saw other girls meet their boyfriends there.  She had explained to him how to get there, walked him through the streets one by one.  He never showed up.  He told her that he made it to the University Bridge but then some woman give him a weird look which made him feel weird so he turned around and went home.

 

“I don’t like ducks,” Nellie replied.

 

“There wasn’t a single Indian in that place.  Me and a bunch of white people.   I felt like everyone was looking at us and I couldn’t stop looking at his arms.  He had this blonde hair all over them.  Like lots of it.” Julie made a face that she saved for the smell of rotten garbage.

 

“That’s how white people are, I guess.” How would Nellie know? She’d never studied one up close. “Was he nice?”

 

“He asked me if I liked being called Indian or Native.”

 

“Always say Native.”

 

“I know that, Nellie.  But I don’t have to answer that question if I’m with an Indian guy.”

 

Nellie wanted to argue from the perspective of diversity and being open minded but she was tired and felt nauseated from the smell of pizza.  So, they walked down to the Rainbow cinema where movies were three dollars on Sunday afternoons.  As they stood in line for popcorn, Julie laughed suddenly and sharply.

 

“What’s so funny?”

 

“I was thinking about the date.  You know when he asked me if I liked Native or Indian.”

 

“What did you say?”

 

“I asked him if he liked white or honky.”

 

Nellie rolled her eyes as Julie laughed at her own joke.

 

When they got home, Nellie checked the phone: Ball, N. had called.   She showed it to Julie who shrugged and then turned on the TV.  Nellie went back to her homework.

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Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall

Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall

edition:Paperback
tagged : satire

Dr. Edith Vane, scholar of English literature, is contentedly ensconced at the University of Inivea. Her dissertation on pioneer housewife memoirist Beulah Crump-Withers is about to be published, and her job’s finally safe, if she only can fill out her AAO properly. She’s a little anxious, but a new floral blouse and her therapist's repeated assurance that she is the architect of her own life should fix that. All should be well, really. Except for her broken washing machine, her fickle new g …

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