Canada Reads 2016: Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter

Minister Without Portfolio

Michael Winter’s Minister Without Portfolio was one of the five novels nominated as this year’s Canada Reads choices – which landed it squarely on my immediate TBR.

I have to admit that the initial description gleaned from the inside flap did not thrill me: man goes to Iraq with the military, has a bad experience, returns to Newfoundland to attempt to piece his life together.

But luckily for me, this is one of those cases where judging a book by its cover turns out terribly wrong, because Minister Without Portfolio is easily the best book I’ve read yet this year. I’ve only read two out of the five Canada Reads selections so far, but I already know which one I’m rooting for.

Fun fact: Minister Without Portfolio was nominated for the Giller Prize the same year as Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing (and you can read my review here) but didn’t even make it to the short list. (For the record: this is not a choice I agree with, Giller Prize Committee of 2013!)

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The Giller king: Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

fifteen-dogs-by-andre-alexisHere it is: Fifteen Dogs, the book that won the Giller!(Which, for the record, I totally called.)

The place: a Toronto bar.

The players: Hermes and Apollo, somehow not quite out of place in a Toronto bar.

The bet: if granted human intelligence, might dogs be able to live happy lives – and die happy? Or is happiness naturally unable to coexist with the same sentience that makes humans, well, human?

That’s the book in a nutshell. Can dogs die happy? I knew going into it that it was going to break my heart in half and stomp on the pieces.

Which is why I was kind of surprised – and a little disappointed – when it didn’t.

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The sturdy, bitter heart of Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing

draft dodgers - lynn coady

It’s difficult to describe how I feel about this collection of (Giller Prize-winning) short stories but I’m going to try anyway.

This isn’t normally the sort of book I’d pick up, because short stories aren’t really my jam. But I’m taking a class in Canadian short fiction this semester and I think it’s going to be really good for me. I mean, even if I dropped out tomorrow it’s introduced me to Lynn Coady. That’s a win.

And while I keep saying short stories aren’t really my jam, I keep finding collections of short stories that punch me in the sternum, and new collections of short stories keep ending up on the to-read pile. So maybe I should revisit the prejudices I have against short stories.

But let’s talk about Hellgoing, as much as one can talk about Hellgoing.

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The life and times of a weary hero: All True Not A Lie In It


“I am young and I believe that I know what I ought to do, I believe that I can get free and make my own way. Though it is only Death opening its clothes to me and saying: Look close. 

I’ve been in a weird Wild West / frontier fiction phase* so I was immediately sold on this novel: sharp and searing prose, the life and times of Daniel Boone, and a Giller longlister to boot.

First of all, it has one of the best openings I’ve read all year:

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Canadian whimsy and a review in subtitles: Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill

daydreams-of-angelsThis book in a nutshell:

Short stories, some funny and some sad but mostly sad; Giller Prize shortlister this year; whimsical tales with a whiff of magic realism; sweet and subtle CanLit in tiny, flavourful bites.

Other works and awards from Heather O’Neill:

  • Lullabies for Little Criminals (Canada Reads winner in 2007, Governor General’s Award shortlister 2007)
  • The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (Giller Prize shortlister 2014)

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Expectations and surprise: the Giller short list

Giller season! Giller season! Giller season!

I’ve never been so impatient for a short list in my life. Despite only working my way through two of the long-listed works so far, I had a couple of predictions about how things were going to go down. This morning’s announcement held a few surprises but also fulfilled a few expectations. Not a bad mix at all!

The Short-Listers
(Click on a cover for the Goodreads link.)

outline  martin-john  arvida  daydreams-of-angels  fifteen-dogs-by-andre-alexis

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Hide your kids, hide your wife: The Winter Family by Clifford Jackman

The Winter FamilyBrace yourselves: Giller long-lister The Winter Family is a roaring ride through violence.

The fastest guns in the west? Check. Murderers for hire? Check. Psychopathic soldiers, vengeful slaves, and civil war atrocities? Check, check, check.

Then, of course, we have Augustus Winter himself: the man with the golden eyes and a heart as cold as a Minnesota snowstorm.

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The good, the short, and the translated: Giller long list 2015

header with text

Let’s talk about the Gillers!

I’m a grad student at a Canadian university studying in an English department, so the Giller Prize – celebrating the best Canadian fiction of the publishing year – is my jam.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Giller season with the long list reveal, and all and all it looks like a good mix: some short stories, some funny books, some sad books, and at least one translation that I could spot.

I expected to recognize more titles, but then again I haven’t had my socks knocked off by any CanLit yet this year. The result: a reading list of diverse and well-written Canadian fiction, just in time for fall!

God, I love the Gillers.

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Sweetly soft: Emma Hooper’s Etta and Otto and Russell and James

etta and ottoThis wasn’t a book I originally intended to read, but then I started seeing it everywhere. Bookstores. Newspapers. Goodreads. Costco. Best seller lists. Translations. Giller buzz. Finally, I saw it on display at my local library and was forced to face facts: the universe wanted me to read this novel.

Hooper neatly lays out the subject of the novel: Etta, Otto, Russell, and James, each story woven into a whole. Their threads wind together and unravel by turns – a study in the parallelism of seemingly separate journeys.

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