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The Recommend for September

Research shows that most of the books we read are the result of one thing: someone we know, trust, and/or admire tells us it's great. That's why we run this series, The Recommend, where readers, writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.

This week we're pleased to present the picks of Mike Petrou, Maclean's journalist and award-winning author of Is This Your First War? Travels Through the Post-9/11 Islamic World; Frances Peck, partner with West Coast Editorial Associates and author of Peck's English Pointers; Jennifer Kervin, TO-based bookseller and publishing professional; Christine Fischer Guy, author of the new novel, The Umbrella Mender, and many acclaimed short stories; and Steve Stanton, author and former president of Canada's national association of science fiction and fantasy authors.


Mike Petrou picks Alistair MacLeod's The Lost Salt Gift of Blood

"Alistair MacLeod achieved his greatest international accolades for his first and only novel, No Great Mischief, published in 1999, but it is in his short stories, and especially those in his first collection, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, that his writing is its most evocative, limpid, and heart wrenching.

'I am speaking now of a July in the early 1970’s ...” is how he begins one story. Not 'writing' but 'speaking,' and although all these stories were all committed to paper—in longhand, according to many of the profiles about MacLeod—they are composed as if they should be read aloud. MacLeod is a storyteller in the oldest sense of the term. His narrative voice predates the written word."

Michael Petrou, a foreign correspondent at Maclean’s magazine, is the author of Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War and Is This Your First War? Travels Through the Post-9/11 Islamic World, which won the 2013 Ottawa Book Award.


Frances Peck picks John Vigna's Bull Head

"I bought John Vigna’s Bull Head when it first came out but didn’t open it for months. To me, short stories are like delicate, intricate shells. You’re supposed to admire the heck out of all that finely wrought beauty, but there’s often something missing. When I read, it’s not the carapace I’m after; it’s the animal.
Turns out Bull Head is full of animals: dogs, deer, elephants, elk. Also truckers, tree planters, brothers. Peeler bars, sad sex, beer, betrayal. From this harsh stuff Vigna spins the most remarkable stories: poignant yet unsentimental, brutal yet gorgeous. There are sentences so simple and so perfect that you’re hard pressed to move beyond them, yet there is nothing precious or arty about the prose. It throbs with the rhythm of the big rig, the crack of the shotgun, the sick thud when a hard-living man falls, his heart breaks, his illusions die.
This book hit me hard and stayed with me for weeks. It felt like encountering, for the first time, the mute blue-collar despair of David Adams Richards, the lyrical purity of Alistair MacLeod. Vigna ranks up there with those fine authors, and he’s only getting started. I’ll be first in line for whatever he writes next, and I’ll be reading it straight away."
Editor-writer Frances Peck, a partner with West Coast Editorial Associates, is the author of Peck’s English Pointers. She teaches editing at Simon Fraser University and Douglas College, and gives editing and writing workshops across Canada. She lives in Vancouver and is on Twitter at @FrancesLPeck.


Jennifer Kervin picks Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman Who Loved Him, by Roy MacGregor

"Before starting this book, I knew the bare minimum about Tom Thomson: painter of The Jack Pine and The West Wind, contemporary of The Group of Seven, died mysteriously. Roy MacGregor grew up close to the artist's stomping grounds in Algonquin Park, and has held a lifelong fascination with Thomson. He vividly reopens the never-fully-shut case of Thomson's death. He brings Winnie Trainor into the conversation, a slightly eccentric woman locals knew as Thomson's lover who never stopped grieving his loss.

Part biography, part true crime mystery, part travelogue, part history lesson, this book lays out Thomson's origins as a painter, his rise to fame, his untimely death, and the ensuing inquests and investigation, including the questions of how an experienced outdoorsman died in the wilderness, the exact location of his resting remains, and how Winnie Trainor remained an important character in this enduring Canadian mystery."

Jennifer Kervin is a bookseller, publishing professional, and crafter. She was born and raised in Moncton, New Brunswick, and now lives in Toronto with her partner and a large cat named Felix. She is on Twitter at @KervinTheRouge.


Christine Fischer Guy picks Galore, by Michael Crummey

"By divine accident, since I hadn’t read much about it before I began, I read Michael Crummey’s delicious Galore immediately following a re-read of One Hundred Years of Solitude. What a happy sequence! Galore is Crummey’s homage to that book set in a fantastical Newfoundland, and he tells it with the “brick face” that Márquez describes as the literary legacy of his own grandmother. 'She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness …' Márquez wrote. 'What was most important was the expression she had on her face.'

Crummey learned that lesson well, populating Paradise Deep and the Gut with ghosts and a human born of a whale as easily as hermits and lecherous priests. The grand parade of characters (King-me, Flossie, Bride and Mary Tryphena, to give you a taste of their local-colour names) march through the two centuries of coastal life that his novel spans, negotiating birth, death, marriage, politics and faith, pursuing love and existential purpose in an environment hostile to life.

Most enchanting for me was his use of the Newfie phrase now the once to double as structural metaphor and tidy summary of the novel’s theme. 'It was the oddest expression he’d learned on the shore. Now the once. The present twined with the past to mean soon, a bit later, some unspecified point in the future. As if it was all the same finally, as if time was a single moment endlessly circling on itself.'

A brainy philosophical novel that pulses with life and (fish) guts and heart: what more can a reader ask? I can’t wait to read Sweetland."

Christine Fischer Guy’s fiction has appeared in journals across Canada and has been nominated for the Journey Prize. Her debut novel, The Umbrella Mender, is out next week. She reviews for the Globe and Mail, contributes to and and teaches creative writing at the School for Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. She is also an award-winning journalist. She has lived and worked in London, England, and now lives in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @cfischerguy.



Steve Stanton picks The Tattooed Witch, by Susan MacGregor

"This debut fantasy novel by accomplished Canadian editor Susan MacGregor is set during the historical period of the Spanish Inquisition when women lived without basic civil rights and were treated as chattel. The author has a gift for engaging empathy from the reader with a simple narrative style.

The story begins dramatically with a young seer falsely accused of murder and destined for torture and death at the hands of corrupt papist minions, then begins to conjure a thematic ballet of primitive European spirituality and unrequited love. It's a dance of life revolving around a gypsy tribe known as the Diaphani, who have magical powers of divination in their bloodline, worship the goddess Lys, and believe in an afterlife of ghosts and demons. Hounded by the orthodox Church, the Diaphani make an annual pilgrimage by caravan to a secret sanctuary in the hills for ceremonies of prophetic appointment and cultural restoration.

The Tattooed Witch explores and satisfies the innate human longing for arcane knowledge and forbidden revelation with strong elements of romance, revenge, and reconciliation."

Steve Stanton is the author of a Canadian sci-fi trilogy, The Bloodlight Chronicles, and is the former president of Canada's national association of science fiction and fantasy authors. You can find him on Twitter @SFStanton.

September 9, 2014
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