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STAFF PICKS

August 2019

Jo's Picks

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

by Alicia Elliott
(Doubleday Canada)

A collection of essays and memories from a contemporary Indigenous writer, who brings a youthful and necessary modern voice to the conversation. On top of that, she is amazingly gifted, unafraid to dig deep into the darkest corners of racism and sexism and class separation, and examine her own life experiences with a perceptive, fierce and hyper intelligent eye. Intimate. Visceral. Necessary. And very moving. Eden Robinson calls her 'a badass' and Leanne Bestasamosake Simpson says the book is 'a punk tour of Tuscarora brilliance'.

 

Keep This to Yourself

by Tom Ryan
(Albert Whitman & Company)

This YA thriller set in a small coastal town reminiscent of many in Nova Scotia, captures the youthful feeling of a never-ending summertime, of growing up and apart, and coming-of-age. The main character Mac Bell is an endearing narrator dealing with the aftermath of a series of killings the previous summer that ended with the murder of his best friend Connor. A discovery in a comic book that Connor left for him brings up many questions for Mac and sends him on a hunt for the truth. Is the Catalog killer truly gone? What is Connor trying to tell him from beyond the grave? Can Mac trust anyone including his new boy friend, Quill, who sets his heart beating just a little faster? Evocative, chilling and creepy, with tinges of Scooby Doo (and that is meant in the best way), this is an engrossing and fast-paced read.

Lanny

by Max Porter
(Strange Light)

Well, this was a head-trip. Sort of a mash-up of Old English nature folklore, contemporary fiction and a dash of mystery. Told from various perspectives and in a variety of styles- stream of consciousness, overheard dialogue, and musings combine in a heady mix of magical realism that is truly unique. Set in a small insular village rife with gossip (as they often are) this is the tale of an unusual boy, Lanny, who has a special connection with nature. His parents are unhappy; his actress mother at a loss, his businessman father, largely absent. The main presence in his life is a famous and eccentric artist, Mad Pete. When Lanny goes missing, the reader is thrust into a surrealist maelstrom of suspicion and panic. And then, there's lyrical Dead Papa Toothwort- mythic, ancient, and rank with power. Wondrous strange!


Alice's Picks

Cluster

by Souvankham Thammavongsa
(McClelland & Stewart)

Souvankham Thammavongsa has been one of my favourite Canadian poets for a while now, since her early micropress days. She is a minimalist poet, like another of my favourites, Nelson Ball. Although often spare, her poems are full of meaning, breath, and impact. Cluster winds and folds in gatherings of observation. Beautiful poems to sit with and revisit. Gorgeous.

 

Big Cabin

by Ron Padgett
(Coffee House Press)

Ron Padgett is one of my favourite contemporary American poets. His poems are consistently clear and funny, like ecstatic little sidewinders that strike with glee at whatever lobe of the brain receives poetry fully. His lines are often deceptively simple, but they envelop some fairly wild ideas and observations. This particular book was written over the course of three autumns at a cabin in Vermont, and they reflect those moments where a mind - an amazing mind, mind you - wanders and captures unforgettable thoughts. A memoir-type essay is sandwiched in the middle of the poems. A charming collection.


Anne-Marie's Picks

Camp Tiger

Written by Susan Choi, Illustrated by John Rocco
(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers)

As August wends its way to a close, children’s summer languor can be disrupted by anxiety about what lies ahead. September is usually a time of new beginnings and great unknowns. This may mean starting school, starting a new school or facing a social dynamic from which summer provided respite. It most certainly means growing up a little bit more. In Camp Tiger, a little boy frets as his family sets off on one last camping trip before school begins. He doesn’t want to be a first grader, he liked kindergarten with its building blocks and free time; he hopes the camping trip never ends. But his melancholy lifts abruptly when a talking tiger wanders out of the pine trees. It doesn’t scare the boy. In fact, he follows the tiger into a tent before his parents can protest. He zips the tent shut himself (despite resenting his mother’s recent insistence that he do things himself) and curls up in the tiger’s fur. For the rest of the trip, the tiger is by the boy’s side as he hikes and canoes, catches his first fish and ventures out onto the lake alone in the dark to howl at the moon and admire the stars. Pulitzer Prize finalist Susan Choi’s fantastical story, coupled with Caldecott Honor-winning artist John Rocco’s lush, evocative illustrations, invite readers to lose themselves in this parable about embracing the unfamiliar and finding your inner strength (or tiger).

The Last Peach

Written by & Illustrated by Gus Gordon
(Roaring Brook Press)

If Camp Tiger is a Life of Pi of sorts for the younger set, The Last Peach is a picture book salute to Waiting for Godot. In it, two bugs (one sporting a bowler hat) endlessly debate the relative merits of devouring a succulent peach. They lurch between arguments and rationalizations, deciding one minute they must eat it at once, the next that they must not because it is the loveliest peach of all the summers. Author/illustrator Gus Gordon giddily exploits the humour of the bugs’ inaction, teasing out their impulses toward generosity versus selfishness, delayed satisfaction versus immediate gratification, preservation versus consumption. Eventually the bugs abandon their object of adoration - and a good thing too since, in true absurdist fashion, it turns out that their whole discussion was moot.



Alice's Recommendations

Anne-Marie's Recommendations

Jo's Recommendations