25th Trillium Award

Focus On: Mukoka ? Recommended Reads

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by Phil Miletic

Muskoka has been inspiring authors and artists (and movie stars) for decades. Whether you prefer the idyllic summers or the wonderland winters, you'll find a book in our recommended reads to take to the dock next summer or to the fireside this December. Look for character-driven novels and historical fiction, fascinating memoirs, cutting-edge journalism, sharp poetry and endearing children's books in our selection of books by some of the many talented authors who call Muskoka home.

As Long As Rivers Flow (Knopf Canada), by James Bartleman

Author of the prizing-winning memoir Out of Muskoka, former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario James Bartleman?s first novel, As Long As Rivers Flow (Knopf Canada), continues in the tradition of capturing the heart and spirit of Canadians. The novel follows one girl, Martha, from the Cat Lake First Nation in Northern Ontario who is stolen from her family at the age of six and flown far away to residential school. Ten years later, Martha finds her way home again, barely able to speak her native tongue. The memories of abuse at the residential school are so strong that she tries to drown her feelings in drink. The novel then follows her adult life and the lives of her children. An extremely poignant novel that superbly captures a disgraceful episode of Canada?s history, Bartleman tells a compelling and moving fictional story grounded in non-fictional facts about the self-destruction that often befalls residential school survivors and their children.

Click here to read Open Book's On Writing interview with James Bartleman.

Come Looking For Me (Blue Butterfly Books/Dundurn Press), by Cheryl Cooper

Whenever Cheryl Cooper is asked to describe her debut novel, Come Looking For Me (Blue Butterfly Books/Dundurn Press), she usually finds herself saying: ?Come Looking for Me is a story of love and friendship, courage and treachery, triumph and loss on the high seas during the War of 1812.? Come Looking for Me, set during the War of 1812, follows a mysterious young English woman named Emily, who risks a crossing of the Atlantic during the War of 1812 for the promise of a new adventure in Canada. But she never arrives. Emily is captured by Captain Trevelyan and held prisoner aboard the USS Serendipity. Escaping the Serendipity, Emily finds herself on another ship, the Isabelle. However, on board the Isabelle, Emily encounters a crew of fascinating seamen and strikes up unexpected friendships. At times humourous and at other times dark, Cooper's novel is a tale of the bravery of the men locked in the epic, brutal struggle that was the War of 1812, and the courage of a woman who, with extraordinary determination, laboured to make her own way in life and in love.

Click here to read Open Book's Ten Questions interview with Cheryl Cooper.

Alex Mortimer and The Beast of Wildeor (Walden House), by B.A. Dearsley

Alex Mortimer and The Beast of Wildeor (Walden House) is the first book in The Alex Mortimer Series by B.A. Dearsley. This young adult historical fantasy series follows 14-year-old Alex and his friend Sarah Greystone, who discover that Alex is the last of the Lords of Allegiance, a once powerful ancient order connected to King Arthur and Merlin. As a result, Alex is forced to embark on a journey to Wildeor — a safe haven for some of the strangest creatures ever to roam earth — and finds that he is all that stands between mankind and certain annihilation. Alex is a hero who readers of all ages will become attached to and adore, making Alex Mortimer and The Beast of Wildeor a page-turner no one will be able to put down. It?s a good thing that there are more adventures ahead for Alex.

Kingdom, Phylum (Brick Books), by Adam Dickinson

A finalist for the 2007 Trillium Book Award for Poetry, Bracebridge-born Adam Dickinson?s Kingdom, Phylum (Brick Books) is a terrific collection of poems that are fresh, imaginative and provocative on a poetic and an ecological level. Kingdom, Phylum has been described as being intense, luminous, exceptional, intricate and metaphorically connected to the natural world. The book explores the ideas of the order (geological, biological, moral) we create through the operations of taxonomy. By doing so, Dickinson pushes the boundaries between thought and language, and unsettles the taxonomical arrangements.

Click here to read Open Book's Poets in Profile interview with Adam Dickinson.

Ghost Towns of Muskoka (Dundurn Press), by Andrew Hind and Maria Da Silva

In Ghost Towns of Muskoka (Dundurn Press), Andrew Hind and Maria Da Silva set out to create a book intended as a resource for preserving the legacy of long-forgotten communities, and they couldn't have been more successful. Andrew and Maria document towns all across Muskoka that have long since faded in various ways. Some have disappeared entirely, having been swallowed by regenerating forests, while others have been reduced to foundations, forlorn buildings and silent ruins. Although ?Ghost? is in the title, this book is not a list of dead towns, but a tribute to towns that lived, that vibrantly thrived in their time and have contributed to Muskoka's history. A great book for Muskoka residents seeking to learn more about their area or for the history buff with an interest in Ontario?s rich history.

Click here to read Open Book's On Writing interview with Andrew Hind and Maria Da Silva.

Clinic of Hope: The Story of Rene M. Caisse and Essiac (Dundurn Press), by Donna M. Ivey

In Clinic of Hope (Dundurn Press), Donna M. Ivey writes the biography of Rene M. Caisse of Bracebridge, Ontario. Ivey chronicles Rene Caisse?s extraordinary perseverance in her effort to obtain official recognition of her herbal cancer remedy she called Essiac, her name spelled backwards. Rene Caisse was thrust into a lifelong medical/legal/political controversy that persists even after her death in 1978. This documented research presents a biography of a remarkable woman and her struggle to help "suffering humanity."

Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman Who Loved Him (Random House Canada), by Roy MacGregor

A 2011 finalist for the Ottawa Book Award for Non-Fiction, Roy MacGregor?s Northern Light (Random House Canada) re-examines the mysteries of Tom Thomson's life, loves and violent death in the definitive non-fiction account. MacGregor?s book reveals that not many details of Thomson?s life are what they seem. Philandering deadbeat or visionary artist and gentleman, victim of accidental drowning or deliberate murder, the man's myth has grown to obscure the real view — and the answers to the mysteries are finally revealed in these pages. Whether MacGregor reveals the truth or not is a legitimate question, yet he has written a convincing story, part history and part true-crime investigation, that intrigues the reader more and more with each turn of the page. Whether you are convinced or not, MacGregor still tells one of Canada?s greatest stories never told.

When I Was Young and in My Prime (Nightwood Editions), by Alayna Munce

A 2006 Nominee for the Trillium Book Award and National Bestseller, Huntsville-raised Alayna Munce?s When I Was Young and in My Prime (Nightwood Editions) details a moving fictional account of a young woman?s journey through the lives of her grandparents, her own very different urbanity and the search for something ageless. Throughout the course of the novel, the young woman reflects on the untold stories and unsung bonds that make up our lives. Weaving together voices, diary entries, poems, conversations and lists, Munce writes a deeply human book that is both funny and full of hard truths. Compassionate and complex, When I was Young and in My Prime is a beautiful novel of family history that tells of how lives can change from generation to generation.

The Curiosity of School: Education and the Dark Side of Enlightenment (Viking Canada), by Zander Sherman

In Zander Sherman's The Curiosity of School (Viking Canada), he shows that institutionalized education and the practise of sending kids off to school is a very recent invention. Beginning in the 19th century, Zander takes the reader from Prussia and Italy to the U.S. and Canada, just to name a few places, and examines how institutionalized education came about and grew into the established system it is today. From military attempts to standardize their soldiers and rid them of their troubling individuality to the invention of SATs to allow the state to sterilize ?imbeciles,? Zander reveals a rather dark side to the education systems around the world, both in the past and in the present. Humourous, informative and, yes, educational, The Curiosity of School is a provocative and interesting read that forces us to be aware of the educational institutions that have shaped us into who we are.

Slimon the Slug (Yellow Toadstool Press), by Susan Elizabeth Ross with illustrations by Bonnie Bews

Writer Susan Elizabeth Ross, who summers in Muskoka, and local resident and artist Bonnie Bews tell a moving story of — wait for it — a slug, through both words and images in the children's book Slimon the Slug (Yellow Toadstool Press). The story follows Slimon, a slug who?s fed up with being a slug, a creature people are usually disgusted by. In his journey of self-discovery, Slimon considers all the other creatures he could be, but soon realizes he?s exactly what he wants to be: a slug, a loveable creature. A great book for teaching children self-esteem and how to love exactly who they are, not who they wish they could be. You'll also want to check out The Perfect Bear and the Zelda and Esmerelda series, more great collaborations by this pair.

Frontlines (Walden House), by Andrew Wagner-Chazalon

Andrew Wagner-Chazalon?s debut novel for young readers, Frontlines (Walden House), throws together three colour characters — a police officer, a scientist and an archeologist — who all have one thing in common: they are racing to get hold of the power that lies in the hands of a 12-year-old boy who has suddenly found he has the ability to draw like a professional artist. In the first of The Frontline Series, Wagner-Chazalon weaves a mysterious tale surrounding the police officer?s startling fit, the scientist?s questionable affiliations, the archeologist?s discovery of a lost city and the young boy?s sudden ability.

Grey Owl and Me: Stories from the Trail and Beyond (Dundurn Press), by Hap Wilson

Rosseau resident Hap Wilson returns with Grey Owl and Me (Dundurn Press), detailing a new journey where the bizarre melds with the sublime. Nurtured by the writings of Canadian environmentalist and would-be-Native, Grey Owl, Wilson adopted a lifestyle similar to the 1930s conservationist but with his own twists and turns along a meandering path full of humorous misadventures. The author recounts his early days winter camping, motorcycling the Labrador coast, even teaching actor Pierce Brosnan how to throw knives and paddle a canoe for the Richard Attenborough film about Grey Owl. Wilson also takes us to a few of his favourite places and shares intimate secrets of wilderness living. Illustrated by Ingrid Zschogner, as well as by Hap Wilson himself, Grey Owl and Me is a hopeful tale of spiritual adventure that feels like a campfire story. If you liked Wilson?s previous memoirs, this one will surely delight you, containing humour and jaw-dropping stories.

Buy these books at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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