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November 2019

Jo's Picks

Terra Nullius

by Claire G. Coleman
(Small Beer Press)

Terra Nullius was a term used by the British Empire to describe the continent of Australia. It roughly translates from the Latin to mean 'nobody's land' and it meant that the British could claim ownership without a treaty. This novel reads as a colonial historical narrative from a post-colonial and indigenous perspective. It is harsh and gritty stuff. People are identified as Native and Settler. The main characters are Jacky, a native boy on the run; Sergeant Rohan, sent to capture Jacky; Sister Bhagra, a settler Nun who runs the children's home;  Esperance, a free Native;  and Johnny Star, a trooper who has deserted.  The descriptive passages about the land are beautifully rendered. You can feel the blazing sun, breathe the hot dust, thirst for water. It was a land of bones he walked, a land of death and bones and pain. The story unfolds in a familiar, poignant, and painful way. The reader actively participates in the tale, thinking they know where it's heading. And then in Chapter Ten, everything changes. All I will say is that what you thought you were reading is not the true story at all.  Challenging and powerful.


Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All

by Laura Ruby
(Balzer + Bray)

Already shortlisted for the National Book Award, this is a wondrous blend of WW2 historical fiction, ghost story and coming of age. Ruby's masterful YA novel tells two tales - one narrated by a dead girl, Pearl, the other by Frankie, the daughter of an immigrant shoemaker, who is left at a Catholic orphanage with her siblings because her father can no longer afford to feed them. It is meant to be for a short time but when their father does return he is remarried and has no room for them. This is Chicago still caught in the throes of the Great Depression. A shattered America. This is the struggle by the poor, by people of colour, by recent immigrants to find a place in the American Dream; this is the story of all those young men who went to war, voluntarily or not, and this is the story of all the unwanted girls without a voice.  A gorgeous gut punch, ferocious and beautiful.


Alice's Picks

Grand Union

by Zadie Smith
(Penguin Canada)

Zadie Smith once more asserts her position as one of the finest living writers in English. This is her first collection of short stories but it is very clear she is no neophyte. She is sort of the Kali of writing - each arm writes with fierce authority in the realms of the novel, short fiction, essay, and within these all genres are represented. Fantasy, high realism, abstraction, science fiction, social critique, humour, and all parts between and over. A whirlwind of a read, lively, imaginative and ferocious.


Bluenose Ghosts

By Helen Creighton and Clary Croft
(Nimbus Publishing)

Definitely NOT a new book, but one that has remained in print because it is a Nova Scotian classic. It's a very well-written, spooky collection of ghost and other supernatural tales transcribed and assembled by the legendary folk historian Helen Creighton. These stories are an essential part of the cultural lore of the Maritimes, as stories are always an essential part of the structure of a place. Creighton didn't set out to collect eerie tales, but they found her amongst the other recollections and accounts that came her way. You'll be haunted by these tales of forerunners, phantom ships, and a wide array of helpful and harmful ghosts!


Anne-Marie's Picks

A Wild Child's Guide to Endangered Animals

Written & Illustrated by Millie Marotta
(Chronicle Books)

Part encyclopedia, part art book, A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals profiles over forty species threatened with extinction. Author/illustrator Millie Marotta states that her hope is for readers to fall in love with the featured creatures just like she has. To this end she offers fascinating tales of extreme survival, unbelievable adaptation, and kooky evolution. Readers are introduced to a bird that naps while flying, an amphibian that can fast for 10 years and live to be 100, and a fish that lives in the desert. Marotta categorizes species according to habitat types, from wetlands and deserts to mountains and forests, and itemizes threats they face from issues such as deforestation, mining, pollution, invasive species, poaching and climate change. Key to the campaign for readers’ hearts however, is her artful approach to her rare subject matter. Marotta's masterful design sense and eye for patterns in nature, paired with a gorgeous, rich palette, result in sumptuous, stylized illustrations which convey the beautiful diversity and intrinsic value of even the least endearing amongst these irreplaceable creatures.

The Girl and the Wolf

Written by Katherena Vermette
Illustrated by Julie Flett

(Theytus Books)

One doesn’t have to be long in the tooth to know how this will end: a young girl dressed in red wanders away from her mother into the cold dark woods and comes upon a big grey wolf. For children reared on a diet of evil wolves blowing houses down and eating up grandmas, the tension will be palpable. This talking wolf, however, offers companionship and wisdom, gently guiding the young girl to self-reliance and the way back to her mother. Inspired by traditional indigenous stories, Métis author Katherena Vermette and Cree-Métis illustrator Julie Flett have crafted a simple but profound and atmospheric fable that subverts familiar fairytale characterizations of the natural world and its creatures as threatening and in need of being overpowered.

Alice's Recommendations

Anne-Marie's Recommendations

Jo's Recommendations