Like most kids, I always looked forward to this time of year with a keen anticipation. I loved going back to school in September, but June brought an incredible rush of joy and elation—for two months, I would be able to read whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted.
I spent the summer months in the hayloft, or in an upstairs bedroom at my grandmother’s house, curled up on the couch or perched in an apple tree, on the front step or in the backyard, but always, always, engrossed in a book. I would stage regular sallies into the library, raid the thrift shop and the second-hand store to feed my voracious literary appetite.
This month’s collection of recommendations from independent booksellers across the country is dedicated to the waning of the school year, and the chance for everyone—whether they have two months off or not—to spend a little time with a new favourite book. There are some great options for you here.
The Bookseller: Carolyn Gillis, King’s Co-op Bookstore (Halifax, NS)
The Pick: Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper
I read this beautiful novel in one sitting. Etta is 82 and has never seen the ocean. She wakes up one morning and starts walking from Saskatchewan to Halifax. She leaves her husband, Otto, a note on the kitchen table. Otto decides not to follow or rescue Etta. He saw the ocean long ago when he went to, and came home from, the War—via Halifax. Russell, their neighbour and friend, decides that he will find Etta. It is the first time he has ever left home. James is the coyote who befriends and accompanies Etta on her remarkable journey. This wonderful novel is full of memories, loves lost and found, hope and connections. Etta, Otto and Russell are all on journeys of discovery and remembrance. This is a heartwarming and heartbreaking read. All of the characters in this story will leave an indelible impression upon the reader. You may be haunted.
The Bookseller: Shelley Macbeth, Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)
The Pick: Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis
Hermes and Apollo walk into a bar. Really: the Wheat Sheaf in Toronto, to be precise. They debate the question of whether man ever really dies happy. To solve the argument they go to the animal shelter next door and grant human intelligence to the 15 dogs there at the time. As we track the ensuing travels of these dogs we are forced to look hard at ourselves. And our dogs. I promise you will never look at your dog the same way again. My pick for a Giller nomination this year!
The Bookseller: James Tyler Irvine, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)
The Pick: The Long Hello, by Cathie Borrie
The Long Hello is a lovely book. A memoir of a mother and daughter, told with such grace and dignity. This is an important read for our time.
The Bookseller: Anna Beddie, Misty River Books (Terrace, BC)
The Pick: The Beautiful Mystery, by Louise Penny
This mystery was my first novel by Louise Penny and I absolutely loved it. It's filled with both likeable and distasteful characters, and I didn’t have to read Penny's previous books to get into the book. Penny writes the Abbey and the monks and their chanting and of course the murder so well; whenever I think of the book, I can still see in my mind a picture of the Abbey and hear the music.
The Bookseller: Tina Timmermans, The Mulberry Bush Bookstore (Parksville & Qualicum Beach, BC)
The Pick: Bird’s Eye View, by Elinor Florence
Rose Joliffe is a young girl living in a small prairie town when WWll breaks out. As the young men begin enlisting, and the news from her ancestral home in Britain gets progressively worse, Rose desperately wants to become a meaningful part of the war effort. She finds her way overseas and begins work as an aerial photographic interpreter, at which she excels. In this excellently written and well-researched book, we follow Rose throughout the duration of the war. The history, the emotions, the visuals are all beautifully portrayed by Elinor Florence.