The Crash Palace – Andrew Wedderburn

Audrey is a young woman who loves to drive. Much of this story describes in detail an extended road trip with four aging ex-punk rockers, to gigs in mostly empty dive bars throughout BC and Alberta. Wedderburn’s writing is wonderfully descriptive: the physical geography, the smells and sounds of the bars. There are many recognizable locations in Calgary and Camore. And with a character called the Skinny Cowboy, what’s not to love! Thanks Sarah, for giving me this delightful book.

And This Is The Cure – Annette Lapointe

Allison is a nearly 40-year-old public radio pop culture journalist. Her past life has been messy and complicated: escaping a deeply conservative family, teenage rebellion epitomized by membership in a riot girrrrl punk band and issues with mental illness. Her current somewhat stable life is upended when her ex-husband is murdered; consequently, Allison takes on the guardianship of her angry 11-year-old daughter. Needless to say, she is unprepared for parenting. This is a brilliant novel about unresolved baggage and healing, with precise descriptions of Winnipeg and Toronto life. Both funny and poignant, a great read.

Amy notes; I am sure I didn’t get all the Canadiana inside jokes, but I got enough to appreciate their presence! Propulsive read.

Rabbit Foot Bill – Helen Humphreys

It is 1947 in a small town in Saskatchewan. Leonard is a young boy who befriends a reclusive man known as Rabbit Foot Bill. Bill commits a sudden act of violence and is sent to prison. Twelve years later, Leonard is a recently graduated doctor of psychiatry. His first job is at the Weyburn Mental Hospital where he encounters Bill again. What follows is a strange obsession that ends badly. This book explores the frailty and resilience of the human mind, and the elusive relationship between truth and fiction. The story also reveals the abysmal treatment of mental illness in the 1950s with use of LSD by both the doctors and patients. Humphreys is an under-appreciated literary goddess, with previous gems like The Evening Chorus, The Lost Garden and Nocturne.

Butter Honey Pig bread – Francesca Ekwuyasi

A superb relationship book set mostly in Nigeria with some Canadian content. The memorable characters: a mother with an uneasy existence with the spirit world, and her twin daughters. The twins exhibit a special closeness but also a requirement for space away from each other, especially after a childhood trauma to one of the twins. And one of the daughters has an apparition to consult with and offer comment. An interesting feature of the story is that the context is Nigeria of privilege. There is lots of Nigerian cooking too. From the Giller long-list.

Ridgerunner – Gil Adamson

This is a beautifully written book set in 1917. After the death of his mother, 12-year-old Jack is delivered to the care of Sister Beatrice while his father, William Moreland, leaves to raise money to support Jack. However, Moreland’s only skill is as a thief; some of his escapades are Butch Cassidy-like. Much of the setting is the Banff-Lake Louise corridor with the World War in the background. The characters are rich, and the depictions of the natural world are breath-taking. Hopefully, this book will be a strong Giller contender. Ms. Adamson previously wrote the well–regarded The Outlander.

Five Little Indians – Michelle Good

A graphic and powerful story of five indigernous children who have experienced Residential Schools, especially the aftermath on their post-school lives. Some tragic endings, some examples of resilience. This book should be assigned reading for those who dismiss the Residential School tragedy and for those who acknowledge hardship but then suggest that “survivors” should just get over it.

Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood

Elaine, a middle-aged painter who lives in Vancouver, returns to Toronto (where she grew up) for a retrospective show of her paintings. This causes her to reminisce about her life. The entire book is great but for me, the first 1/3 is perfect. Atwood wonderfully captures the relationships between 8- to 10-year-olds, alternating between friendships and toxic competitions. School with corporal punishments and skipping grades, shopping and shoplifting things at Woolworths. And how children acquire (mis)information in an era when parental communication was non-existent. Another gem.

Surfacing – Margaret Atwood

An early Atwood treasure from the 1970s with beautiful descriptive writing – this description off a restaurant meal is on page 1: “two restaurants which served identical grey hamburger steaks plastered with mud gravy and canned peas, watery and pallid as fish eyes, and french fries heavy with lard”. Is your mouth watering? The narrator is an un-named young woman who travels to a remote lake in Northern Quebec with three friends, to seek her missing father. There is an eerily effective transition to sinister happenings, but the true gem of the writing is the unfiltered dialog in the narrator’s head: this story is both spooky and brilliant, a must read.

That’s My Baby – Frances Itani

Ms. Itani has written two superb books about an Ontario community coping with the aftermath of WWI, Deafening (2003) and Tell (2011). This story is about Hanova who learns in 1958 on her 18th birthday that she was adopted as a child. Itani’s exquisite writing is subtle and expressive: the beauty of ordinariness (much like Carole Shields and Alice Munro). Her description of a trip to a dance hall is perfect. Hanora’s life during WWII and her subsequent considerable success as a writer is a major focus of the book, along with her quest for information about her birth parents. Itani’s impeccable writing covers diverse topics like art and music; she is a national literary treasure.