Follow along this week as we share book recommendations by well-read authors for the lit-picky on your list.
For Your Favourite Cousin Who Relishes Family Drama:
The Fishers of Paradise by Rachael Preston (Wolsak & Wynn)
Preston’s descriptions of 1930s Hamilton are so visceral and rich this book will feel like five presents in one! Egypt Fisher, her young brother, Aidan, along with their mother try to hold their family together but it won’t be easy. It’s not just their hardscrabble life squatting in Cootes Paradise, a boathouse community on the edge of Lake Ontario. The city wants them gone, employment is scarce, and they’re threatened by revelations of more than one secret when Dad—one seriously nasty piece of work—returns after a six-year absence. Emotions run high in this story and so does the action! You can’t help but root for this family, who, like “last year’s weeds clinging to the bank” are in desperate need of nurturing and stability. You can’t help but hope for the handsome stranger or the eccentric upper-crust family or even the clever wolfhound, George, to just make things better for Egypt and her family. Hope has a way but it’s totally unexpected! This award-winning book is also part of Project Bookmark Canada.
A Cool Northern Story for That Friend Who’s Always Hot:
One Good Thing by Rebecca Hendry (Brindle & Glass)
“Sometimes, when you think you’re looking for one thing, it’s not what you’re looking for at all.” This is the crux of this 1970s story. Every character is searching for something—community, like the one in Old Town, Yellowknife, or the motherlode or a mystery in the sky. Twelve-year-old Delilah just wants a stable family but her emotionally unreliable mother and her preoccupied dad can’t respond to Delilah’s need. New friends fill the gap, a boy her age and a Dene man, who teach her about trust and stars and coping with loss. The descriptions are vivid and the landscape, brand new to Delilah, is portrayed through her eyes with awe and appreciation for its unique beauty. Hendry writes, “If summer in Yellowknife was a thousand shades of blue and green, November is more shades of white than she knew existed.” Yes, you do get to experience all four seasons. This beauty of a novel is encompassed by a such a fantastic cover (by Tree Abraham) it should be an ornament on the tree!
For Your Philosophical Fantasy-Loving Friend:
Oracle Bone by Lydia Kwa (Arsenal Pulp Press)
What a beautifully delicate blend of history and myth, philosophy and magic, wisdom and intrigue. Set in 7th-century China, you’ll follow three women—Empress Wu Zhao, the orphan girl, Ling, and the Daoist nun, Sister Orchid, who cares for and mentors Ling. The characters are captivating, each unique and powerful in their own way, each determined to take ownership of the missing oracle bone with its promise of eternal life. The lure is equally strong for the empress’s lover and the demon, Gui. I loved and appreciated Kwa's compelling story, extensive research and attention to detail, including a map, a pronunciation guide and beautiful Chinese symbols. "How strange we are,” Kwa writes, “mortal beings, full of inconsistencies and contradictions." (Sounds like your friends and/or family, too, right?) PS The epic battle scenes are so well constructed that you feel the urge to leap and to slash. Maybe best to read after your company’s gone home!
For Your Gal Pal Who Thought She Had the Best Break-Up Stories:
Bad Endings by Carleigh Baker (Anvil Press)
You can’t go wrong with short-story titles like “Shoe Shopping with the Cash Poor” and “Read These Postcards in a Gonzo Journalist Voice.” The characters are super relatable working-class folks (BC local, often urban) with unusual jobs, obsessions, relatives and dissatisfactions. I just know my giftee will get a kick out of Baker’s wry humour, smooth prose and snappy, very real dialogue. In “Moosehide” a city couple skips town for a river adventure. “Technically,” she says, “this is an accomplishment, paddling a million kilometres in the cold, past an arbitrary line on a map that raises eyebrows when you mention it to fellow urbanites.” Yes, there is political, environmental and social commentary sliced into the stories. There’s some lovely description of place, as well, with a recurring motif of salmon and bees. The bees! Writing about work on a honey farm gives Baker a chance to include (and we readers to enjoy) a whole lot of fascinating behind-the-scenes information about bees, hives, honey and what it takes to get it onto your buttered toast on Boxing Day. A sweet (but not too sweet) read!
For That Buddy Who’s Had a Rough Year (Almost All of You?):
Undiscovered Country by Al Rempel (Mother Tongue Publishing)
These poems (or single long poem, if you prefer to read it that way) are a soft landing after a emotional loss. Let’s face it, it’s been a rough year. So whether your loss has been personal, north, south or global, these lines alone will mend some heartbreak and sooth your frantic brain. Rempel reminds us that “our adult lives are gyroscopic, and by this I mean, we’ll do anything/ not to fall.” There’s a sense of relief here in the recognition and acceptance of our universal frailties and the feeling of constantly striving to live the “best life” but, ultimately, just to live. This brings us to hope. His plain-speak style and exquisite descriptions of everyday events—a drive to work, a falling lightbulb, a walk in the mountains—urge us to take a slow read with time for both reflection and anticipation. I want my buddy to read these lines a thousand times, like I did. “Let’s linger here/ until we begin to think about the next sunrise/ more than the last.”
At the Top of Kim's Very Long Wishlist:
A Bright and Steady Flame by Luanne Armstrong (Caitlin Press)
Smells Like Stars by D. Nandi Odhiambo (Book*hug)
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Thanks so much to Kim for this thoughtfully curated list of books for all the giftees out there! Stay tuned for the rest of the week for more selections by some of the coolest authors around.