Editor’s picks: New books

All the books we plan to read at least twice.

Find your next read! Here are all the books we’re excited about from 2016:

Little Dogs: New and Selected
By Michael Crummey
House of Anansi Press

Twenty years after the publication of his debut poetry collection, Michael Crummey’s Little Dogs: New and Selected Poems brings new work together with selections from his first four books of poetry.

The poems range from delirious adolescence to mature love, and carry intergenerational reflections on masculine relationships–father to son to grandson. They deal with the presence and the absence of others, the scars and wisdom of long love.

The imagery is consistently and beautifully Newfoundland: the sensory intensity of fishing for cod, for example. Crummey’s writing has long been treasured and these collected works are reason to celebrate.

Mary, Mary
by Lesley Crewe
Nimbus Publishing

Mary, Mary is a funny and charming story of a dysfunctional Cape Breton family, and the irony of the “white sheep” who stands out like a sore thumb.

Mary is everything her family is not: gentle, kind, patient, loyal, polite, good at her job. All around her is volatility, stubbornness, crankiness and too much pride. But Mary’s innate “goodness” drives her into a regretful pattern of working for money, taking care of her unstable family and wondering if something better could ever be possible.

What makes this novel a real joy is the authenticity of the characters. Their flaws and strengths are as real as Cape Breton itself.

All the Things We Leave Behind
by Riel Nason
Goose Lane Editions

In the late 1970s, 17-year-old Violet’s brother disappears. Her parents go looking for clues and she stays home to sell antiques to tourists at their roadside stand.

She is left to reflect on her brother’s absence, to reminisce about his seemingly random bouts of sadnesses–what readers recognize as depression. These memories of her brother’s presence, and the reality of his absence, are haunting, as is the mysterious presence of a white deer, which only Violet has seen.

All the Things looks deeply into depression, loss and mourning, and how we remember complicated relationships after we lose someone.

Four-Letter Words
by Chad Pelley
Breakwater Books

Chad Pelley has described himself as being dedicated to writing “literary page turners.” Interesting then that some of his best work comes in the more character-focused art of the short story, accumulating a bevy of prizes in this form. His first collection of stories focuses on the most intense expression of human emotions, such that desire becomes obsession, love becomes longing and many of the characters misstep their way to regret. It is this unversal feeling, which Pelley evokes so expertly, that makes Four-Letter Words sing.

Two-Man Tent
by Robert Chafe
Breakwater Books

We’ve waited a long time for celebrated playwright Robert Chafe’s debut collection of short stories, which are linked by a long-distance relationship and its related emails, texts and online chat sessions. It’s 21st-century dialogue the way only a brilliant–GG-winning–playwright could deliver it.

These stories, reminiscent of Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad in their willingness to challenge convention, fully engage and absorb, so as to quickly allay any fears about form.

The Most Heartless Town in Canada
by Elaine McCluskey
Anvil Press

Atlantic Canadians already appreciate the theme of this novel: judging a place with little comprehension of it and its people. McCluskey is the perfect witness to this theme, as she has long written sympathatically about society’s forgotten castaways, brought them to life on the page and showed them in their darkest and brightest glory. Extending this type of characterization to an entire town, one all-too-casually written off by chic big-city drive-by tourist types, comes naturally to a writer with her abilities.

McCluskey plays the tensions of big-city superiority complexes and small-town pride and resilience beautifully, and with great humour.

The Last Half of the Year
by Paul Rowe
Killick Press

When literary luminaries like Kathleen Winter start praising, you have to like a book’s chances for success. When that book comes from the keyboard of a writer whose debut novel was shortlisted for the Winterset Award and the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage and History Award, one expects a captivating story well told.

Paul Rowe, an actor and writer from St. John’s, delivers just that with The Last Half of the Year, which won the Winterset Award. What will strike readers is the craft with which Rowe weaves the themes of the story – the idyllic rural childhood, the dark humour of a father and son’s shadowed impacts on one another, the harshness of leaving home, the reckless folly of youth – with the topical turbulence of the 1970s and varied sentiments on the war.

The Angel’s Jig
by Daniel Poliquin, translation by Wayne Grady
Goose Lane Editions

What a delight when a work of fiction teaches a history lesson or, more descriptively, pulls back the wool from our eyes about the chastity of our past.

The Angel’s Jig is a tale of the adventures of one particularly engaging elderly man who has been auctioned several times, and may be again before his time is through. Despite his situation, he finds colour in the tales he tells and comfort in the people who surround him at each stop.

Written by one of the best French writers in Canada (Poliquin has won or been shortlisted for many of the major literary prizes here), this translation is a joy to read and opens eyes about this dubious practice of the past.

The Porridge Is Up!: Stories from my Childhood
by Dale McIsaac with illustrations by Jessica Shepherd
Acorn Press

The title of this collection of stories from McIsaac’s childhood comes from a favourite expression of his father, a Prince Edward Island farmer. “The porridge is up!” he’d holler from the bottom of his stairs up to the four girls and six boys–in three double bunk beds–meaning get up, eat and get to work.

McIsaac celebrates the up and downs of growing up in a small and tight-knit community.

The 15 stories in this collection were, like all of Robert Munsch’s many children’s books, pre-tested aloud on a young audience, McIsaac’s junior high school students. They are slices of life but that the teller’s skill make extraordinary.

I Am a Truck
by Michelle Winters
Invisible Publishing

I Am a Truck is a mystery of considerable depth. And it is also very funny.

It is the first novel of Saint John New Brunswick’s Michelle Winters, who has previously been nominated for a Journey Prize for her short fiction.

In Truck, Agathe Lapointe’s husband disappears, along with his beloved pickup truck, on their 20th wedding anniversary. What follows is as much about the mystery of his disappearance as it is about the protagonist’s response–becoming more involved with new friends, rock and roll and people who know more than they let on–and the love story between two distinctly Acadian characters.

What we are left with is a rare combination of suspense, humour and insight into the nature of love.

Bet On Me: Leading and Succeeding in Business and in Life
by Annette Verschuren
Harper Collins

Annette Verschuren is an astute business mind, having led Home Depot Canada’s expansion from 19 to 179 stores. Here, we get both memoir and insights into how professionals can more fully embrace and leverage the strengths they already have to achieve breakthrough results.

The book is full of practical insights from someone with a track record of business success. The most fascinating chapter is the one in which Verschuren talks about all the sexism women face in the workplace, but also suggests that being a woman in a senior role can be made into a competitive advantage, and she explains how she did just that.

Nebooktook: In the Woods
by Mike Parker
Pottersfield Press

Nova Scotia’s most beloved outdoor enthusiast, Mike Parker, is back to pay homage to the province’s wealth of natural resources–but not the kind you merely cut or haul or harvest. In Nebooktook, a Mi’kmaw word meaning “in the woods,” Parker focuses on a much more intrinsic, even spiritual value, associated with the wilderness.

Parker takes many tacks in making this point, looking at ecology, history, philosophy, art and ideology.

As in his other works, Parker accompanies his words with hundreds of archival images that provide insightful glimpses into the way we were.

Waiting for Still Water
by Susan White
Acorn Press

After a crisis at work, BC Child Protection caseworker Rachel Garnham is forced to take a “break,” as her supervisor calls it. She returns to her childhood foster home.

The farm at Walton Lake in New Brunswick is run by tenderhearted Amelia. It quickly becomes clear to Rachel that, over the course of her four-year absence, the woman’s memory has begun to fail.

As everyone struggles around her, Rachel begins to worry that Amelia’s condition will have consequences for the new foster girls at the farm. Her patchwork family comes together in the face of adversity, coping with loss and grief.

Where the Rivers Meet
by Danny Gillis
MacIntyre Purcell Publishing

Where the Rivers Meet ratchets the tension to its most taut in its mythical northern Cape Breton setting. At the heart of it is a boy who finds a Mi’kmaq relic. Its discovery–that of gold on Mi’kmaq land–brings longstanding religious, racial and land-based conflicts to a boil.

As tense as the situation is the rapid-fire language play by Gillis, who channels beat poets and Mark Twain to present a frank portrayal of childhood wonder and boyhood competition within a pack mentality. Each character within these linguistic onslaughts is fully realized and realistic.

Written By

Chris Benjamin is the managing editor of Atlantic Books Today. He is also the author of Boy With A Problem; Indian School Road; Eco-Innovators and Drive-by Saviours; as well as several short stories in anthologies and journals.

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