Bad Cree – Jessica Johns

This remarkable debut novel is all about Indigenous women. Mackenzie is a young Cree woman living in Vancouver, but darkness dreams drive her to return to her home on High Prairie, Alberta, in part to confront her unprocessed grief over the death of her older sister. Can spirits visit people in their dreams? Can evil entities feed off the hurt, isolated and grieving? This is both a masterful mystery and horror story that will forever change your appreciation of the phrase “murder of crows”. Highly recommended.

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.

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.

Little Yellow House: Finding community in a changing neighbourhood – Carrisa Halton

This is a collection of stories and vignettes of living in a  “shitty neighbourhood” in Edmonton: Alberta Avenue (118 Avenue between 101-82 Streets). This is low-income housing with lots of social problems: drug houses, crime, prostitution … the list goes on. But the inhabitants are resilient and the area acquires a distinct personality.  But there is a warning in the last pages: “gentrification is the new colonialism”. A fabulous read, with a breezy style of writing. Thanks Sarah, for giving me this book.

Precious Cargo – Craig Davidson

Precious Cargo - Craig DavidsonDavidson usually writes gritty guy-books (e.g. Cataract City) that are fiction. In contrast, this new book is non-fiction, an account of a year spent driving a school bus for five special-needs kids in Calgary. There are some very funny parts, such as the perils of substitute driving a school bus at Halloween, but Davidson takes a thoughtful look at how people with disabilities are viewed by the non-disabled, in school and in society in general. The book also includes an introspective examination of himself as a struggling writer at the time – overall, a very worthwhile read.

The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel – Katherine Govier

The Three Sisters GovierAn epic story of the Western Rocky Mountains, with the setting of Gateway (actually Canmore). The story covers 100 years, from 1911 with guides taking pack-horse expeditions into the mountains. The core story is the disappearance of an American fossil-hunting expedition. The history of Canadian National Parks is presented as an evocative back story. This is a very good read, capturing the romance (literal and figurative) of mountains and the men and women who blazed the trails.

Who By Fire by Fred Stenson

who_by_fire_220This is a very fine book by one of Alberta’s best writers. First the settings of a 1960s farming family next to a sour gas plant in Southern Alberta and contemporary Fort MacMurray are described perfectly, especially the farming story. And second, the complex relationships are rich with nuance: husband-wife, parents-children, siblings, and so forth. This is excellent story telling on an increasingly relevant topic.

Leaving Tomorrow – David Bergen

Leaving Tomorrow - David BergenThis is an insightful and introspective book, typical of Bergen’s novels. The first part of the book is a perfect recounting of growing up in rural Alberta. Arthur describes his influences: isolation, books and school, religion, sibling rivalry, and conversations that leave much more unsaid than stated explicitly. The latter part of the book is a coming-of-age story in Paris. Just an excellent read.