Cross Country Checkup's 2017 summer book list
Every year, Cross Country Checkup asks our audience for their recommendations for our annual summer book list. This year, readers from across the country (including those as young as nine years old!) called in and gave us their picks for the season. Check out the list below, and let us know on social media what books you would have recommended.
This list also includes recommendations from our guests:
Erin Balser, Senior Producer at CBC Books, who highlights their list of The150 best-selling Canadian books of the past 10 years.
Kirstie McLellan Day, Best-selling author and co-writer of many books including 99: Stories of the Game with Wayne Gretzky and Corner with Ron MacLean
Imogen Coe, Professor of Biology and Dean of the Faculty of Science at Ryerson University
Nadine Dajani, the author of Fashionably Late and Cutting Loose
Anne Lagacé Dowson, award-winning broadcaster based in Montreal, and a former guest host of Cross Country Checkup.
Sputnik's Children: A Novel, by Terri Favro
Erin Balser's recommendation: It is about a comic-book artist who has decided to write the origin story of the superhero character she created and she believes that she is the superhero and the comics are her biography. It is such a fun, original novel. If you like comics and superheroes, this book is a really interesting look at the creators behind them. If you like quirky, original novels – this book is for you. If you want to be someone who is reading a book under the radar, this is it. It hasn't got a lot of attention, but I absolutely loved it.
Natural Born Heroes, by Christopher McDougall
Valerie Pierce, Gull Lake, Man.: It was a fascinating and riveting read on three different levels. First, it's about the mythical Greek heroes in Crete – that is the overarching theme. There's that historical root in this book. Then there is a very interesting story told about how the British during the Second World War were able to unnerve the Germans, who were based in Crete, through the audacious kidnapping of a German general. The third root of this is about surviving against all odds, when you're hiding by day and running by night and not eating food. Those three undertones made this book riveting for me.
Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing my People (and Yours), by Harold Johnson
Geri Patriquin, Vancouver: I grew up in the Yukon where alcoholism is a problem across all ethnic groups. What I learned from the book is that there is a culture of not talking about the problem in Indigenous communities. You do not tell people to stop drinking, of the consequences. What Harold Johnson starts out by saying is: 'I am going to break the tradition and I am going to start speaking out. I do not want to see another member of my family die from alcohol.' To me, this is why it is one of the most important books. We have cultures that cannot speak about these things and he's broken that code.
My book club has been reading a variety of books about Indigenous issues and the conversations that have come of that have been absolutely fantastic. What's wonderful is that as we read, we learn.
Jimi Hendrix: A Brother's Story, by Leon Hendrix
Mark Coupal, Montreal: Jimi Hendrix was a very gifted person, the only left-handed guitarist back then. But reading the book, I learned Jimi Hendrix was a good person. He was loved. He would give money away to everybody – his aunty, his father, everyone. He gave money away like water. The guy really had nothing. Jimi Hendrix was a very good soul, from what I read in this book. It was a great read.
Kirstie McLelland Day's recommendations:
The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea, by Bandi
It's about a guy who lives in North Korea who wrote eight short stories about what life there is really like. His stories were smuggled out of North Korea and published this year. They're from 1989 but absolutely incredible.
Buffalo Trail: A Novel of the American West, by Jeff Guinn
I'm just crazy for cowboy stories and I just found a writer who writes like Pete Dexter and Elmore Leonard. Jeff Guinn writes from the perspective of a cowboy, but also from that of Indigenous people of the era. He has a white, cowboy protagonist who teams up with Comanche war chief Quanah. It's based in historical events and he really puts you there. He tells his stories from both sides, both perspectives. It's absolutely fascinating and fun.
Darktown, by Thomas Mullen
I picked this up because I love detective fiction. Give me up a beat-up, flawed hero and a dead body and a glass of good pinot and I am one happy gal. But I had no idea how strongly I would be drawn into the world that Thomas Mullen puts us in. It's based in well-researched historical facts. In Atlanta, Ga., in 1948, eight new police officers are brought onto the force – only they have no power, no cars and the rest of the force won't work with them because they're black. Unlike most books where there are sympathetic white characters and saviours, that doesn't happen in this book. The people in Darktown are real; they have bent moral compasses. It just has me furious, just seething at the injustices suffered by the characters.
The Mouse Who Poked an Elephant, by Mark Piper
Elaine Crouse, Dartmouth, N.S.: It's about the future of Canada and the U.S. over the next few years and it has some really interesting ideas about forming a new government, how to do that without having parties, having independent thought and working together as a team. It makes significant change to how we know Canada and an interesting read about how things could be different.
Town is by the Sea, by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith
Angela Reynolds, Bridgetown, N.S.: I'm recommending this for two reasons: the illustrations are breathtaking and the story is deceptively simple. Joanne Schwartz's text is very poetic, not a whole lot of words, but has a really deep meaning to them.
It's the story of a little boy who lives in a mining town in Cape Breton and it follows him through the day. One spread will be really beautiful with him swinging on the swings and you turn the page and there's a dark swath of grey and his father is under the sea mining for coal. It really hits home. It gives you chills because it's this beautiful story of family, that's so realistic, but really makes you think about the hard lives that miners live. Mining is such a part of the history of Nova Scotia that I think it's a really interesting thing to share with children.
Robert Doisneau, by Jean-Claude Gautrand
Michael Molter, Montreal: It's a collection of his photography. It's just so revealing. He talks about the ordinary gestures of ordinary people in ordinary situations.
It's a book in three languages: English, French and German. [It's] 200 pages, [an] easy read...beautiful photographs. Just love it. Can't find anything better for a summer day. It's a work of art. It's more than a book. It takes you right away.
Imogen Coe's recommendations:
Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly
I'm sure many people would have seen the film, Hidden Figures, but it's actually based on a brilliant book.
It's non-fiction and it tells the story of the African-American women, the mathematicians, who were really important in helping NASA in winning the space race.
It's a great story, a great book about people [and] about the challenges for women — women of colour in science at that time. It still resonates today in many ways [for] women and people from different kinds of backgrounds. If you're interested in reading about scientists —women in science—it's a great read.
Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren
It's been very popular among scientists. The author is an American scientist.
It's a book about her experience as a girl and a young woman growing up and loving science and being passionate about science, and then her journey through becoming a scientist and the challenges she faces.
It's a book about the humanity of a scientist, about the challenge, her feelings, her experience, her relationships. So, it's a sort of a window into the life of a scientist that's very beautifully written.
Keeping The Bees: Why All Bees Are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them, by Laurence Packer
The author is a professor at York University and he is a bee scientist. He has written this fabulous book about his travels, his science, his studies on trying to understand bees. We're all familiar with honey bees, but he works a lot on solitary bees and he goes around the world and he finds, studies, describes and keeps track of all the many bees that are part of our world.
It's a fabulous kind of diversity of these insects out there. This is basic science, and yet he turns it into a book, it's almost like a travel book. It's a bit of a discovery book and it's an incredibly important area now because we now know that bees are incredibly important as pollinators and he talks about the importance of keeping the bees, and the fact that we must keep the bees otherwise we jeopardize our own food supply.
The Breadwinner Trilogy, by Deborah Ellis
Sarah Orr, Malpeque Bay, P.E.I.: It's very, very interesting and intriguing and I was always looking forward to reading it.
It's about the war in Afghanistan and a girl's life during the war.
We learn how she had to survive and had to work to earn money to buy food for her family and how when her father got taken away, she had to sort of become the "man of the house."
Rendevous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
Anthony Bourque, Saint John, N.B.: It's a classic. It was written in 1973, but man, what a great science fiction book. The author focuses on the realism of the science fiction that he's writing. It's about this giant, I mean giant 50 km long spacecraft that enters earth's solar system, and people end up exploring it and get taken away to this other place. It really hits home. It touches on a line from the movie, Contact, that said that the universe is a pretty big place and if it's just us, then it's an awful waste of space, and that there is so much possibility of life. Read the whole series, it's excellent.
Driving Miss Norma: One Family's Journey Saying "Yes" to Living, Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle
Julie Ishida, Tofield, Alta.: I just love the spirit of the book. Tim and Ramie are husband and wife and they live an RV lifestyle in the United States. Miss Norma is Tim's widowed 90-year-old mother who was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She refused all treatment and told her doctor that she was hitting the road with her son and daughter-in-law who offered to take her to places she liked to see before her time on earth was done. They took a huge trip all around the United States accompanied by their standard poodle, Ringo, and they had an amazing time meeting people, seeing things and saying "yes" to life.
The times they had together, the things they learned about Tim's mother they wouldn't have gotten to know if it hadn't been for this trip. It's very touching, it'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry.
Nadine Dajani's recommendations:
No is Not Enough, by Naomi Klein
She's been one of my favourite authors for the past 20 years ever since I read No Logo when I was still in university. It's about the phenomenon of Donald Trump and she ties that with the things she has written about in the past like shock economics, [which is] how politicians take advantage of a shocking event to implement real draconian policies that people wouldn't otherwise accept. She's a voice worth listening to.
Paris Letters, by Janice MacLeod
It's a memoir, a love story set in Paris by a Canadian author. It's an antidote to all this negative news and things that you can't quite wrap your mind around that's happening right now. The author was very disillusioned with the advertising world and her child and just decides one day to change her life by moving to Paris for three months. She has such an incredible time there that she wants to keep doing that and not come back. She's able to find a way to support herself by writing letters by hand and illustrating them with watercolours and selling them on Etsy and actually makes a living this way. She falls in love with not only Paris, but she meets her future husband there. It's a very sweet book and a great way to get your mind off the news.
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
It's on a lot of high-school reading lists, but I think it's extremely relevant right now. I am so thrilled that they have made this into a TV show. When Margaret Atwood wrote the book she said that everything in it has happened at some point in some place in the world. And Saudi Arabia, where I grew up, is an extreme example of this. It could have been The Handmaid's Tale exactly as it unfolds in Saudi Arabia right now. For example, first of all the segregation between men and women is extremely pronounced they never gather in the same area together. So whether you're going to restaurants or amusement parks or any kind of public sphere men and women are separated. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia and you actually see that in The Handmaid's Tale, they're being driven everywhere.
The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince, by Mayte Garcia
Suzanne Taylor, Toronto: This biography by Prince's ex-wife really captivated me. I was really pleasantly surprised by the tone of the book. I thought it was a very beautiful and interesting book. What came through in the book was that she really loved him and continued to love him despite the fact that they had been divorced for many years and had no contact. I was touched by that. Her state of grace was very apparent.
Anne Lagacé Dowson's recommendations:
The Twenty-Three, by Linwood Barkley
Linwood Barclay is the first author. He's a writer of detective and suspense fiction as well as humour. I just wanted to touch on his most recent book, which is called The Twenty-Three. It's the last of a trilogy set in Promise Falls in New England.
If Linwood Barclay were an American living in the States and writing in the States, he would be a gigantic success story. But, he chooses to live in Canada and I just think it's nice to give him a shout-out. His books are very entertaining. You're torn between trying to finish the book and trying to favour the book. You just rip through it and it's 2:00 in the morning when you're done.
The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life, by John le Carré
A lot of the listeners will be familiar with John le Carré. His new autobiography is called The Pigeon Tunnel… and it's basically a collection of short anecdotes and stories from his life. He's a fascinating guy. He was educated at Oxford. He was taught at Eaton, he was a spy. His big success, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, basically ruined his career as a spy because he was outed publically as a member of the British Intelligence Service. And, he just went on to make his living from the pen.
The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King
Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian is probably a must read for everybody right now especially the country is on the verge of some huge waking up of First Nations people. It's his personal account and meditation of being a First Nations person or a mixed race person. And, Richard Wagamese describes Thomas King as the Mark Twain of First Nations.
The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
Isabelle Beal-Tyl, Kingston, Ont.: I'm recommending The Wizard of Oz. It's a classic, but it's just a really good book. When you read it, it also makes you feel like one of the characters in the book. I really like how the book has a girl main character. It's not very often. I find that it's easier to understand with a girl as a main character because it was easier to relate to.
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Nancy Prendergast, Toronto: This one is about what would happen after an epidemic like SARs — but more lethal — strikes the world.
The story starts in Toronto, and starts with a group of actors performing a play of King Lear. It follows some of those characters — the ones who survived — about 15 or 20 years later as civilization is being rebuilt.
I read this one because it had a focus on the arts and because reviews I read said that although some of the events that happened are horrifying, that's not what's dwelled upon. The author manages to suggest very subtly that the horror is there, but it's not really gory and grim. It focuses on people who are trying to preserve what is best in civilization.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah
Froma Rose, Ottawa: It's a really funny, insightful, well-written book. It describes his life in South Africa and the difficulties that he experienced. It is a funny book, but it's very poignant in places.
I learned that he had to be hidden whenever the authorities were around because he was mixed race. He lived with his mother who was black but his father was white and he hardly ever saw him. He connects with his father at the end of the book, but by then, they're both adults and it's much later. It was just a human story on many levels.
Seed of Control: Generations to Execute, by Lawrence Verigin
Jade Davison, Kelowna, B.C.: This new book called Seed of Control, but the prequel is Dark Seed. I would start there if you're looking for a good two-part series to read this summer. The book is about a guy working at a news station. He is approached by a scientist who wants to put out his life story. [The scientist had] been working for a food conglomerate who's been involved with genetically modified food and he has some secrets he wants to share.. It's definitely a thriller, a page-turner and really grabs you.
Tales of Three Wags, by Dorothy Blythe Adams
Nancy Summers, Toronto: It's the story of three different French bulldogs at various stages in their families' lives. It starts in Toronto, then it moves to a farm setting, and then a small town in Southwestern Ontario. The genre is humour, and it appeals to all ages. And, it's about the French bulldogs and their different personalities.
The Book of Fate, by Parinoush Saniee
Hamid Shakeri, Toronto: It's a book about Iranian woman from childhood. It's banned in Iran actually. I enjoyed this book a lot because I have Iranian background and this book gives you the most honest image of Iranian society. It avoids stereotypes. The book is the most unbiased book about Iranian society I've ever seen. It has universal values about love and sacrifices. The book has a lot of unexpected things that happen, so you are stuck to read the book page by page and you cannot guess what happens at the end of it.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians, by Rick Riordan
Nolan Morris, Pouce Coupe, B.C.: I'm recommending The Percy Jackson series. It's a really interesting adventure story. I used to listen to the audiobooks, and now my brother, who's seven years old – his name is Liam – he reads it too.
This segment was prepared by Ilina Ghosh, Samantha Lui and Julie Takeda. The reviews and comments made by callers have been edited and condensed.