25th Trillium Award

Open Book’s Holiday Book Guide 2011: Friends & Relations

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Happy Holidays from Open Book! Our second annual Holiday Book Guide will direct you to some of the most engaging books on store shelves this season. Open Book's Guide will be regularly updated throughout December, featuring a fresh theme with each listing.



If you have ever spent any time in Montreal, Raymond Beauchemin’s novel, Everything I Own (Guernica Editions), will ring true with every word. Beauchemin uses the 12-bar blues structure in order to tell a tale of love, loss and regret that is an all too apropos framing for the greater complexities at play in Quebec's recent history. As he told OBT in a Ten Questions interview, this book is structured "like a song where the chorus is basically the same, the choruses in the novel go after a particular theme of the novel while the narrative is carried along in the verses." Everything I Own sounds oh, so good as the perfect holiday gift for the music and literary aficionado.

In this enthralling young adult novel, Jess and Casey’s life-long friendship is put to the test when Casey is charged with the murder of a young girl. True Blue (Pajama Press) by Deborah Ellis is a coming-of-age story that is part psychological suspense and part murder mystery that explores the incredible courage it takes to stand by a friend in trouble.

In the second book in the Lunch Bunch series, Bernadette in the Doghouse (Second Story Press) by Susan Glickman, Bernadette learns some valuable lessons about friends, old and new. A great gift for kids age 7-9 who are learning to understand how to handle themselves in the sometimes tricky realm of friendship.

The poems in David Groulx's impressive collection, Rising with a Distant Dawn (BookLand Press), touch on a wide range of topics: war, the supernatural, nature, love and lost love. A sample: "There is a distance between you and me/ and I want it to get longer and longer/ I need this to grow/ until I am free from the fire."

An intensely haunting collection of poems, Brian Henderson’s Sharawadji (Brick Books) is a book you’ll want to pick up this holiday season. In an interview with Open Book, Henderson describes Sharawadji as follows: “The book is a kind of exercise in transubstantiation; souls move through it, but also other spirit things such as toxins, birds, longings, fleetings, dream detritus, loved ones. The speaking voice may be possessed, but maybe only occasionally self-possessed. Not an even-tempered book. It took off from me.”

Confetti for Gino by Lorenzo Madalena is a novel that was first published in America in 1959 by Random House and has been resurrected by Guernica in 2011. The novel deals with Italian American culture and the struggle of the protagonist, a fishing boat sailor in Southern California, between his individual desires and the demands of his culture and familial expectations. What's particularly tragic and timeless about this novel is that his protagonist realizes that we are all in a sense doomed by our cultural upbringing and blood relations. What are we but a culmination of everything else around us? 

It's commonly said that December is, statistically speaking, the most “depressing” month. Suzette Mayr's novel begins with a decidedly sad event: the suicide of a teenaged boy. Monoceros (Coach House Books) is about the fallout of this tragic death. We come to find out that the boy was gay and being bullied, and that his family and the Catholic school system struggled to manage this reality. This story is at times deeply affecting and quite visceral. Mayr has cleverly constructed a series of characters and very contemporary situations that illustrate our struggle to communicate and to care for one and other. Monoceros is strong stuff, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Based on a true story, A Chanukah Noel (Second Story Press) by Sharon Jennings follows Charlotte, a Jewish girl newly arrived in France, as she tries to navigate her new environment and the sights and sounds of Christmas. With lovely illustrations by Gillian Newland.

What happens when, on the brink of retirement in sunny Thailand, the bank holding your million-dollar savings crashes and you are forced to move in with your single-parent daughter and her kid? Daniel Foster is about to find out. Passing Through (Cormorant Books) by David Penhale is a funny and thought-provoking novel about later-in-life lessons in parenting, job skills and how to love.

"Here is another illusion: the heart is a/ love poem easily navigated/ here is the reality: the heart is the confluence/ of disturbance." In her remarkable first collection of poems, Above and Below the Waterline (BookLand Press), Marianne Paul writes about everyday life and the pivotal events that mark the passing of time.

"In the ell-chamber, night light/ only a moon, fear in every limb. Low voices/ in the kitchen downstairs, and cats with kittens/ kneading under the small back porch." E. Alex Pierce's deeply moving poetry collection, Vox Humana (Brick Books), is about memories and myth and is impossible to put down once you start reading it.

Blood Relatives (Pedlar Press) by Craig Francis Power took home the ReLit Award in the Novel category this year and with good reason. Former Open Book writer in residence, George Murray, says of the book, “You think you know Newfoundland? Not until you've read this book.” Pick up a copy of Blood Relatives and follow Charley, the 31-year-old protagonist, as he deals with his relationships and copes the with the death of his father.

In Sally Raspin’s delightful and charmingly illustrated children’s book, Grandma’s Turkey’s (The Brucedale Press), Grandma and Grandpa return to Canada and discover that things are a little too quiet for them. They set out to make Orchard Knoll into a real farm.

Ann Scowcroft's debut collection of poetry, The Truth of Houses (Brick Books), is captivating. Scowcroft lets you into an intimate world of relationships and the details of daily life.

Dancing Lessons (Cormorant Books) by Olive Senior tells the story of Gertrude Samphire, who is forced into an assisted living centre after her Jamaican countryside home is destroyed in a hurricane. Alienated and alone, she passes the time by recording her life in her notebook and slowly begins to establish and mend the relationships she has been missing out on for so long. Dancing Lessons is a witty look at social class in Jamaica and the relationship between mother and daughter.

Pick up a copy ofIntention Implication Wind (Pedlar Press) by Ken Sparling, and discover the world of Chappy, Mirror and owl-eyed boy. In a recent interview, Sparling said of his novel, "My intentions seem to me to be very unprotected in this book. Unblinking. It’s like looking at the awful things that threaten to show themselves in any of my books, only this time I don’t blink so soon. It’s like looking at the world the way God or a cat might look at the world."

In an interview with Open Book, Jennifer Still explained that her second collection of poems, Girlwood (Brick Books), "came together...as an act of claiming a particular time and place of formation, in this case a girlhood located on the wrong-side-of-the-tracks in the townhouse community of Winnipeg’s eccentric Girdwood Crescent." The remarkable collection addresses the rich and complex relationships that often exist between mothers and daughters.

In this "handy guide to life," a big sister tells her baby brother how to navigate his way in the world. Dogs Don't Eat Jam and Other Things Big Kids Know (Annick Press) is another winning book from the author Sarah Tsiang and illustrator Qin Leng, the team behind the brilliant children's book, A Flock of Shoes (Annick Press).

Here at OBT HQ we've got a soft spot for Liz Worth, and not only because she was our August 2011 Writer in Residence (be sure to check out her excellent contributions to OBT here), but because her latest collection of poetry is outstanding. If you've ever woken up the morning after, wondering what happened the night before, or, worse, having painful flashes of just what did happen, then you will be all too comfortably uncomfortable with what's at the heart of Worth's poems. Her work is dirty, honest and distressing, like all good writing should be. Amphetamine Heart‘s lost weekend of verse is sobering stuff.

Agnes Annis: Mother and Missionary (Brucedale Press) is the biography of Agnes Gregg Davis. She spent her childhood in an orphanage and then married a methodist minister. The couple moved to West China in 1916 where he worked as a missionary. The author of the biography, Lynn Wyvill, is Agnes's daughter. Illustrated with black and white photographs of the family.

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

The Holiday Book Guide is written by Kate Burgess, Michael Doyle and Clelia Scala

Are you a high school student who loves to write? Check out Write Across Ontario, a creative writing contest for Ontario high school students from IFOA Ontario and Open Book: Ontario. You can find the full details at http://www.litontour.com/write-across-ontario.

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