ICYMI: Four Fabulous Canadian Books from the 1st Half of 2016

2 Canadian novels and 2 books of shorts to cover all your reading needs for the beach this summer ...

Yaosuko Thanh book coverMysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains (A Novel by Yasuko Thanh)

Author-musician Yasuko Thanh holds the great honour of being a Journey Prize winner – It’s an award for the best Canadian short story published every year, and generally marks a person as CanLit royalty, one to watch, an author to consume. Her bio certainly piques one’s interests: Yes, she holds her Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Victoria, but she’s also spent time living in the streets as a busker and opium dealer. Embracing the punk rock ethos her band, The Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, takes readers to a tumultuous rebellion in Vietnam. “Vietnam is a haunted country, and Dr. Nguyen Georges-Minh is a haunted man.” It’s 1908, the French rule Saigon, and each day, for challenging colonial rule, more Vietnamese rebels are paraded through the streets towards the gleaming blade of the guillotine. But Georges-Minh will not cower. With a close-knit group of his friends calling themselves the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, Georges-Minh plots revenge in the form of an act that will send an unmistakable message to the French: Get out of Vietnam. But as in life, nothing goes as planned. And on top of the rebellion, Georges-Minh has a son and the “growing madness of his wife,” to deal with, as he tried to elude capture.


Amy Jones book coverWe’re All in This Together (A Novel by Amy Jones)

Amy made a big splash with her blazingly original debut, What Boys Like – a batch of short stories that turned the genre inside out, finding new tricks no one had yet employed to reinvigorate the short fiction form. It’s no surprise then, that her bio is littered with award recognition, like the CBC Literary Prize and the Bronwen Wallace Award. What Boys Like was itself the winner of Biblioasis’s book-deal landing Metcalf-Rooke award. To quote the editor at Room magazine, “Amy Jones finds the humanity in her characters’ mistakes and the humour in their self-destruction.” In her new novel, a dysfunctional family is forced to start acting like a real one when their matriarch survives plummeting over a waterfall in a barrel; a feat captured on a video that goes viral. When the mother miraculously survives plummeting over a waterfall in a barrel — it’s her family who tumble into chaos under the spotlight. Her prodigal daughter returns to town. Her 16-year-old granddaughter gets caught up in an online relationship with a man she has never met. Her husband sifts through their marriage to search for what sent his wife over the falls. Her adopted son fears losing the only family he’s ever known. The book is set over the course of four calamitous days.

Laura Trunkey book coverDouble Dutch (Short Stories by Laura Trunkey)

Laura Trunkey’s fiction has been published in journals and magazines across Canada, and she was included in the anthology Darwin’s Bastards: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow. From the Back cover: “Intensely imaginative and darkly emotional, the weird and wonderful stories in Double Dutch deftly alternate between fantasy and reality, transporting readers into worlds that are at once both familiar and uncanny — where animals are more human, and people more mysterious, than they first appear. Shape-shifters, doppelgängers, and spirits inhabit the extraordinary worlds depicted in Trunkey’s stories: Ronald Reagan’s body double falls in love with the first lady; a single mother believes her toddler is the reincarnation of a terrorist; a man grieves for his wife after a bear takes over her body. The collection also includes incredibly moving tales grounded in painful and touching reality: a young deaf girl visits Niagara Falls before she goes blind; an elephant named Topsy is killed on Coney Island by Thomas Edison in 1903; and a woman learns the truth about her son’s disappearance while searching for him with her husband in the Canadian Rockies. This enchanting and, at times, heartbreaking collection of stories showcases the talent of one of the most exciting new voices in Canadian literature.”

Kris Bertin Book CoverBad Things Happen (Short Stories by Kris Bertin)

Essentially, this is a book of gritty, human stories focussed on hard cases with hearts of gold and (broken) dreams like any of us. The opening story explores how quickly a crush can vanish once you get to know the person – in this case by breaking into the hard ticket’s house. The second story is perfect reading: engaging writing, stylistic pizzazz, and a contemporary spin on the old chose-your-own-adventure books, aptly titled “Make Your Move” because it’s a piece on fate: on how every decision we make, or don’t make, will affect and change the course of our lives and who we’ll love, hate, be broken by or fixed by. These stories and their characters are bursting with life where a lot of fiction is doing the opposite: being bogged down by lifeless, two-lines-too-many descriptions. The exception is “The Narrow Passage,” which submerses readers in the minutia of a man’s dirty dayjob seemingly to explore the way our jobs alter us, right down to their effect on our bodies. People with atypical, entry-level, labour based jobs populate the book. These are not predictable stories, if only for the shoes they put you in, and the rides they take you on, like helping a potential love interest rob vending machines to get by.

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