Canada Reads 2018 – The Longlist

CBC Today has announced the longlist for this year’s Canada Reads competition, to take place at the end of March (26 – 29). Last year was the first year I really participated in this and I really enjoyed it. I managed to read all of the shortlisted books except one and I think I did read one or two more from the longlist as well. In perusing the longlist (see below), I see a handful of books I might enjoy. They aren’t all within my comfort zone but that’s exactly why I should read them if I get the chance.

This year, Ali Hassan will again be the host of the show. He did a pretty good job of keeping everyone on the same page. I think the panelists get announced at the same time as the shortlist which is announced on January 30.

My plan is to see which of the books I think I’d like to read and get my hands on  a couple before the Shortlist is announced, though I already checked my library’s site and there are not a lot of them available as e-books. The links in the list below will take you to a short blurb about the book on the CBC site. I’ve noted the two I have on hold at the library and put ** beside others I think might be good. Sometimes, Kobo and Kindle put them on sale before the debates so I will keep an eye out there as well.

Edited to add: I forgot to mention the theme of this year’s Canada Reads, it is “One book to Open Your Eyes” and the description is “These books challenge readers to look differently at themselves, their neighbours and the world around them”. The defender of the winner of this year’s competition must have successfully argued that their book is the one that changes how you look at the world. Interesting!

2018 Canada Reads Longlist




Review: Promises to Keep – Genevieve Graham

3.5 of 5 stars
Published 2017

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote an epic poem written in 1847, A Tale of Acadie, about lovers Evangeline and Gabriel who were separated during the Explusion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755. Evangeline spends her life searching for her lost love only to find him as he lays dying, an old man.

Genevieve Graham’s book is the story of Amelie Belliveau and her family during the Expulsion. Evangeline and Gabriel make an appearance, pre-separation. The story starts as the British army have arrived in the Annapolis Valley and eventually take all the men and boys onto waiting ships for the summer before moving all of the families out of the province so that the British can get their hands on the rich farmland and divest the province of potentially loyal French since the two countries are at war.

Before she is sent away, Amelie becomes friendly with a young British Army Corporal, Scottish Connor MacDonnell, and the two fall in love, dangerous in those circumstances. Connor has promised to do anything he can to protect Amelie and her family but at what cost? The book follows their journey, separation, and, because it’s inevitably got a happy ending, their reunion.

I think it’s very well researched. You get a good feeling for the era. I’m from Nova Scotia and am familiar with the geography of the Annapolis Valley so that helps me picture it while reading. The characters are quite good though I did find the dialogue and descriptions a bit slow and underwhelming at times. I thought at first it was going to be rather disappointing in that respect which was a disappointment since I really liked her book Tides of Honour  but the latter half of the book perked up considerably.


Review: All Our Wrong Todays – Elan Mastai

2017: 99
4 of 5 stars
Published 2017

Most books about time travel follow the same rules. If you change something in the past, the future is rewritten. Sometimes for the better but usually for the worse. Tom Barren lives in 2016 where technology is king, there is no war, cars fly and life is good overall. Tom gets caught up in a time travel accident and the new 2016 is good for him personally though everyone thinks he’s John Barren, even if the tech is more like the world we know. So should he go back and change it back to where it should be and risk losing everything or if he tries, how much worse can it be?

The author does a good job of building the worlds in the timelines. You also start wondering, is there a timeline crossover or is one reality a delusion of another one? Are there more timelines?   As things change will past mistakes be corrected or will they be worse?

I had a little trouble with the ending, seemed to be rather more sophisticated than it had to be but it was still very good.

Review: Minds of Winter – Ed O’Loughlin

2.5 of 5 stars
Published in 2017

It starts with Sir John Franklin whose expedition to find the Arctic Northwest Passage ended in tragedy, with the deaths of him and all his crew aboard two ships. All of the gear he had with the expedition was also lost. It ends with a Greenwich chronometer, a navigational aid, found in London 150+ years later. This really happened and nobody can explain how it turned up there.

Over the century and a half, there were various men and expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic with some stalwart explorers trying to conquer both poles of the earth. In present day, Fay Morgan, grieving for her recently deceased mother,  is in Inuvik trying to track down connections to her grandfather who also had connections to the polar explorers. She meets Nelson whose brother has been missing and who may have committed suicide, a brother who was tracing histories of the polar explorers and looking into the mystery of the chronometer. As they sift through his papers, we are told more details about the various expeditions over the years. It doesn’t really solve the mystery of the chronometer but it does keep popping up.

It’s a big book with lots of characters. Some of them keep reappearing but mostly they come and go as their era/period is done. There are a great many stories of the expeditions and the explorers, real and fictional. The individual stories lead you through the decades of exploration and adventure, interspersed with Fay and Nelson’s ongoing investigations. The ending is a bit ambiguous and you end up scratching your head over what’s true or real and what isn’t. As always with a book that covers so many years, I felt the stories in the first half of the book are better crafted than the last few with much more interesting characters. Fay and Nelson are only the links between them and aren’t particularly interesting themselves.

This is on the shortlist for this year’s Giller prize though didn’t win.

Review: Today I Learned It Was You – Edward Riche

3 of 5 stars
Published in 2016

The city is St. John’s, Newfoundland. A retired actor turns to the security guard profession and on a nightly check in a local park, has a clash with some teens. The next time we hear anything about him, he is apparently living in the park and is transitioning to a deer. Or something like that. Yes, you, too, will shake your head in disbelief.

In the meantime, we’ve shifted views to the local municipal council and the mayor, Matt Olford, who is a local hero because he used to be in the NHL on a Stanley Cup winning team. His wife has found religion, he’s contemplating entering Federal politics, he’s got a crush on a lovely fellow councillor, an immigrant from Italy. There are two animal rights activists stirring things up and another councillor who has a very large, ugly chip on his shoulder.  Social media goes viral over the whole deer situation. Many aspects of the tale are told by a lot of different voices, most of whom really have nothing to contribute to the actual story and are never seen again. That leaves most of the other regulars less developed than they should be. Not all of the narratives really cross over or just a little. It’s a bit confusing at times. And yet, it’s also kind of fun and it was enjoyable and quick to read.

While reading the book, I could almost picture it as one of those goofy Canadian films with quirky characters and lots of local colour and colourful locals. You can never go wrong with local colour in St. John’s. There are loose ends untied which loses a star in the rating and another star for the somewhat disjointed feel of the overall story.

This book was on the long list for Canada Reads 2017 though I do have to say I don’t think it would ever be considered a book that would fit the theme of “the one book every Canadian should read”.

Review: I am a Truck – Michelle Winters

3.5 of 5 stars
Published 2016

Agathe and Réjean have been married for 20 years and seem to have a good relationship. They are French and isolate themselves from the English community where they live. “Just you and me forever” sounds romantic but there’s always such a thing as too much togetherness.  Then Réjean‘s pickup truck, a Ford Silverado, is found abandoned by the side of the road and Réjean is missing. It seems he might have just walked away from his life and Agathe, left behind, has no idea why.

Agathe struggles to build a new life and pursue interests that she was unable to previously, such as a love of rock and roll. Meanwhile, Martin, a salesman at the local Chevy dealer who sold Réjean his yearly Silverado upgrade model, may be the one person that knows what happened to Réjean. A lonely man, he seemed to have developed a man-crush on Réjean and after Réjean disappeared, becomes obsessed with watching over Agathe.

The story is told in chapters alternating before and after Réjean‘s disappearance, so we can see how Martin’s dependence on Réjean‘s friendship grew and get a picture of the marriage and then how things proceed after his disappearance. The dialogue is sometimes French mixed with English but you can get the gist of it if you have no French at all. There are lots of references to rock songs of the era, late 70s going by the ones I recognized, and how they “speak” to Agathe.

It seems like this book is about identity, who you are individually, who you are in a relationship, and  who you want to be.  All three characters haven’t had a chance to grow as a person because of their isolation.  Both Agathe and Réjean are different apart than they were together. Réjean  seems to have become an anchor in Martin’s life and when that anchor is gone, Martin starts to sink. And yet, it’s a love story, and it’s quirky and unusual. A short and enjoyable read.

This novel is the author’s first and is on the shortlist for this year’s Giller prize. Quite an accomplishment!

Review: Poles Apart – Terry Fallis

5 of 5 stars
Published in 2015

After the mind F#$* that was Bellevue Square and the frustration that was The Manticore and a dose of violence and investigative journalism that was The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, I am ready for something light, fun and easy to read. What better than the humour of Terry Fallis?

Everette Kane, a freelance journalist in his 30s and avid feminist has to be the dutiful son and assist his father who is recovering from a stroke in Florida. He finds a small apartment and flies from Toronto to Orlando for the duration but finds he has a lot of time on his hands so he starts a blog. A feminist blog called Eve of Equality. When Ev takes on the owner of a chain of strip clubs, one of which has newly opened in the building where his apartment is, word of mouth and the backing of a TV talk show host send its popularity into the stratosphere and suddenly his blog is the talk of the nation.  The thing is, nobody realizes the woman behind the blog is a man.

Everette spends part of his days with his misogynistic father and connecting with a feminist hero who is also a patient there and spends much of the rest of his time writing blog posts and wrangling with the comments and emails the blog produces. He gets to know several people connected with the XY club downstairs and becomes entangled in the web he’s created trying to keep his blog anonymous. There are successes and there are dangers. Everette learns a lot about himself and his family during these months and might just come out the other end unharmed. Or unhinged. It could go either way.

Loved the book. Fallis writes with such wit that you’re smiling through most of the pages at his turns of phrases, and lovely little moments. His characters feel very real and he mixes quite a diverse number of types together to interact with his earnest young Everette through the story. You always know you’re going to get an easy to read but highly enjoyable tale from Terry Fallis, a top Canadian writer if ever there was one. I can highly recommend his novels!