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January 2018

Jo's Picks

The Wolf

by Nate Blakeslee
(Knopf/Random House Canada)

An intimate portrait of the wolf as an individual. At the center, a single female - named 0-Six (for the year she was born), the most famous wolf in the world. She is a powerful pack-leader, doting mother, fiercely intelligent, heroic, and iconic. We are made privy to a multi-generational saga (as sinewy and intense as anything Jack London ever wrote), and given insight into the interrelationships between the packs vying for control of the beautiful Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park. Offering a rare view into the intricacies of wolf-behavior as recorded and observed by a dedicated and passionate group of wolf-watchers, this is nature at its wild heart, a battle for survival both within the park and outside its 'safe' boundaries, where wolves fight their greatest enemy: man, the hunter, man, the rancher, man, the politician. Startling, illuminating,scientific, gorgeously reported with heart but never sentimentality, this reads like an epic adventure, unfolds like a tragedy and keeps the reader riveted to the page. A new classic of science journalism.


The Woman in the Window

by A.J. Finn
(HarperCollins/William Morrow)

Like everyone else, I am heartily tired of The Girl/The Woman in/on whatever, but put aside your biases because this is a twisty-turny, noir-ish Hitchcockian tour de force into darkness and tragedy and post-traumatic stress and all the scary places the brain can lead us. Anna Fox is a recluse who drinks too much and spies on her neighbors.She also watches a lot of old black and white thrillers and takes various meds in un-recommended doses and combinations. None of these things make her a reliable narrator or a particularly pleasant person, but Finn shows admirable deftness in his ability to get us inside this woman's past and present, and as we get to know her better, we care for her. Gradually, gradually things are revealed, like a slow drawing back of a heavy curtain, and the drama and dread are winched up until it all explodes in a crescendo that literally sent shivers up my spine. Smart, ingenious,beautifully written and paced.

Alice's Picks


by Joey Comeau
(ECW Press)

Joey Comeau's Malagash is an exquisitely written tiny novel that describes grief in very concise, affecting lines. A family has come home to the small town of Malagash in Nova Scotia, so that the father, who has cancer, can die in the place he grew up. The narrator of the book, Sunday, has taken to recording every utterance of her father, to transform his thoughts and words into a computer virus that will allow his essence to live on. The characters are well-described and the dialogue wonderful, a real mix of humour and gravity, and very moving, never saccharine. A very beautiful, book by a local (but internationally recognized!) author.


Violet Energy Ingots

by Hoa Nguyen
(Wave Books)

Hoa Nguyen's most recent book of poetry, Violet Energy Ingots, is laced with crystalline lyric veins. What might appear to be fragmentary at first are poems that make sense from their words and the spaces between. Nguyen writes about the quotidian world, history, family, race, politics, the natural world, memory, voice - all with humour, ferocity, and deep originality. This book was shortlisted for the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize, and I do hope she gets her dues, as she's one of the finest poets writing in Canada right now.

Anne-Marie's Pick

Red & Lulu 

Written & Illustrated by Matt Tavares

Every year I like to feature stand-out holiday picture books that, in my humble estimation, would make worthwhile additions to any festive collection. I am a sucker for a handsome-looking picture book, particularly at this time of the year, and my pick this month - Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares - is just that. Its cover features the book’s title in gold lettering and two cardinals flying over an urban street bathed in the glow of an enormous Christmas tree. We discover that these birds made their home in the branches of a towering evergreen tree in a family’s front yard. The highlight of their year was when the tree was decorated on a snowy winter's day and carollers gathered to sing “O Christmas Tree”; sometimes the cardinals even sang along. One day, however, the tree is felled and loaded onto a flat-bed with one of the birds still in its branches. Red desperately tries to locate his mate, tracking the truck to the city where he loses them. Forlorn and alone in a strange landscape, Red despairs he will never see Lulu again. That is until he hears the notes of “O Christmas Tree" and rounds a corner to discover their tree ablaze with colourful lights and Lulu tucked in amongst its branches.  Children will be delighted by the reunion, and comforted by the birds’ decision to move to trees in a nearby park, and everyone will be enchanted by the luminous illustrations which are the foremost attraction of this book. Painted in watercolour and gouache, the scenes are cleverly executed from a bird’s eye view, affording the reader strikingly beautiful perspectives on both natural and urban landscapes. The back story of the tree that is erected every year at New York City’s Rockefeller Center is an interesting epilogue (combined with the fact it is donated to Habitat for Humanity for lumber) particularly given Nova Scotia’s annual donation of just such a tree to Boston.


Alice's Recommendations

Anne-Marie's Recommendations

Jo's Recommendations