A Plague of Doves – Louise Erdrich

It’s about the brutal murder of a white family in the fictional town of Pluto, North Dakota, and the only survivor was a baby girl.  Three Ojibwe men are wrongfully convicted and hanged for the crime. The murders and lynchings affect the entire community of white and mixed-blood residents of Pluto for generations.  The story is tragic, but the storytelling is in parts comical and poetic.  I found the characters very believable, almost alive, so it’s very easy to empathise with them. Although the lynching happened in the past, it’s still a living memory for the characters and shapes their life and how they feel in the present. The writing is so evocative that you feel as if you are there as both the past and present events take place. (submitted by RB)

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Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book. But long after I’d read the last sentence, the story was on my mind – and now I already want to read it again. Mitchell weaves a complex story about life, love, and human progress spanning centuries. The story is told through a series of separate, distinct voices, each with their own story to tell. In the beginning, it’s difficult to see how these stories fit together, but slowly we begin to see a picture of the connections between each character and their actions across time and space. The narrative is filled with uncertainty, some of which is never resolved – so those who like neat endings, beware! Yet Mitchell is an incredibly talented writer who brings this ambitious and captivating story to life. (submitted by AA)

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Lessons in Taxidermy

Bee Lavender has lived through more sickness than I thought I would have the stomach to even read about. It seems as though every unfortunate illness and ill-luck has befallen this woman: cancer, car accident, complications, and more complications. I read this book when I was quite sick and struggling through a series of unsuccessful diagnoses, feeling completely overwhelmed with chronic illness. Somehow reading Lavender’s writing about sickness actually made me feel better. Her book is empowering. Lavender faces illness without flinching, making for an uplifting, if slightly terrifying, read. The narrative is up-front and personal, which along with the book being a short 160 pages, makes it very accessible. (submitted by TH)

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The Wayfinders: why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world

I love it when I find readable non-fiction, and this book is both eminently readable and lovable. Part of the CBC Massey lecture series, it speaks to culture, language and society, and what happens as we lose the thread between ourselves and our past. Like Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress (another excellent Massey lecture that deserves its own blog post), Davis questions the global thirst for progress. However, unlike Wright, Davis is less doomsday in his outlook and celebrates modern navigators in Hawaii and aboriginal peoples in Canada, among others, in their efforts to reclaim a gentler way of thinking and doing. A very important book with a message that is becoming hard to ignore. (submitted by LH)

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The Last of the Wine – Mary Renault

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that’s had me dashing to the used bookstore to get all an author’s works, but this book did it. It takes place in Ancient Greece and is told in the first-person by Alexias of Athens. Renault’s writing is engrossing, rigorously researched, and feels very true to the spirit of the times and the protagonist (which means that there is little focus on women and a liberal view on love). Similar in character to Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mean, I find the feeling in Renault’s work more genuine and better able to transport me to Ancient Greece. This past March, Renault was nominated for the “Lost Booker” award. (submitted by LH)

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Losing My Religion: how I lost my faith reporting religion in America — and found unexpected peace

I found this book riveting and fascinating.  Veteran journalist William Lobdell was in his early twenties when he became a born-again Christian.  At the time,  few reporters were interested in the religion beat – a topic regarded as an antiquated arena for fading journalists. Lobdell had a vision for this position however, and landing it became a powerful calling.  He prayed and waited years for the opportunity. Then it happened in 1998.  The Los Angeles Times hired him for the job and he felt his prayers were finally answered.

For eight years he travelled extensively, looking for inspirational stories in all walks of life, as well as interviewing some of the world’s most prominent religious leaders.  However, he continually found disturbing discrepancies between the tenets of the various faiths, and the actual behaviour of the faithful and their leaders.  Eventually, he let go of his faith and surprisingly, found more peace in “the truth.”  This book  is not a defence of atheism using hard science, instead it is a passionate, spiritual journey full of revelations – a must read for anyone grappling with all the hard questions.

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Power of Half: one family’s decision to stop taking and start giving back

I am starting to give more money to charity.  Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin.  Help locally?  Help in developing countries?  Help animals, people, or the environment?  And how should I involve my kids so they know how fortunate they are?

Well, this book definitely got me thinking.  It’s about a family whose 14-year-old daughter wants to do more for others.   Her parents are motivated by her good intentions and decide to sell their 6,500 square foot house and downsize to something half as big and half the price.  They plan to give the other half of the proceeds to charity.  This is the true story of this process.  It’s interesting to hear how they chose who to give the money to, and how this act changes their family dynamics for the better.   A short and uplifting book. (submitted by KA)

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