Keeper n’Me – Richard Wagamese

Keeper n’Me - Richard WagameseIn the tributes to the late Richard Wagamese at literary festivals in Calgary and Vancouver, several Indigenous authors said that this book had a huge influence on their lives. Garnet Raven is a young child in an Ojibway-Anishanabe community in Northern Ontario. He is a victim of the sixties scoop, essentially a kidnapping, and so grows up without any sense of being an Indian. In fact, there are some hilarious instances of his attempts at cultural appropriation. After 20 years, he is reunited with his family and begins to lean the Indian way with an elder named Keeper. It is easy to understand why this book, published in 1993, became so important to Indigenous youth. This book should be essential reading for everyone, to appreciate a way of living in harmony with the land and the important of silence, of a slow pace of life and a solid sense of humour.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic – Emily Crow Barker

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic - Emily Crow BarkerThis is really excellent speculative fiction. Nora, an English graduate student, inadvertently crosses a portal into another remarkably different world, a world that is less technologically advanced but with MAGIC. This is an imaginative story of a truly different world. And we learn the difference between a wizard and a magician and how to distinguish real magic, with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice having a prominent role in the story. Very entertaining.

The Archeologists – Hal Niedzviecki

The Archeologists - Hal NiedzvieckiThis imaginative book is hard to describe. The story is NOT about professional archeologists at an excavation. Instead the story follows six very different individuals whose lives intersect when bones are (apparently) discovered at the edge of a river which is to be transformed into an expressway. Planning issues (think of Jane Jacobs) are described along with environmental and Indigenous issues. The characters are portrayed vividly, especially the obnoxious and wildly irresponsible Tim. This is a great read.

Hysteria – Elisabeth de Mariaffi

Hysteria - Elizabeth de MariaffiDe Mariaffi was a discovery at the Calgary WordFest in October 2018. This is a very fine mystery because of the context: upper state New York in 1956. There is an early sinister feeling in the book that develops effortlessly. Heike’s husband is very controlling but this was just typical of men in the 1950s. Or is it something more? Or is Heike delusional? The mystery deepens …..

Machine Without Horses – Helen Humphreys

Machine Without Horses - Helen HumphreysHumphreys is a great writer (Nocturne, The Evening Chorus, The Lost Garden). Her new book is fascinating because the first half is a personal account of her writing process: start with an idea, in this case an obituary of a reclusive Scottish woman who was a renowned salmon-fly dresser. Humphreys describes the essential questions: What is the story? Whose Story is it? How are you going to tell the story? The second half of the book is the imagined life of the Scottish woman; very entertaining.

Up From Freedom – Wayne Grady

Up From Freedom - Wayne GradyGrady was a Calgary WordFest author. His book is set in 1850s America, about slavery and abolitionists. A cracking good court case is at the end of the book, about the illegality of of miscegenation: marriage between white and black races. There is a haunting phrase that is repeated in the book: “some things are forgotten but nothing is ever forgiven”.