Here’s my roundup of the top five best books released by local authors this year, just in time for your last-minute literary gift shopping. Let’s rejoice in the glory of our regionally written words!
Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Autobiography by Andrea Warner (Greystone)
Buffy Sainte-Marie has managed to remain one of music’s most consistently relevant artists for more than 50 years. Her Polaris Prize win in 2015 for her brilliant album Power In The Blood is a recent testament to that, not to mention her 1983 Academy Award, her countless honourary degrees and her four Juno wins. But Sainte-Marie’s career was often a rocky road. Her life is beautifully chronicled in Andrea Warner’s in depth new book, telling us the story of a fearless artist in the face of blacklists, racism and the wrath of presidents. Sainte-Marie turns 78 in early 2019, and as Warner so skilfully reminds us, the singer-songwriter has never been more pertinent.
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Lines On A Map: Unparalleled Adventures in Modern Exploration by Frank Wolfe (RMB)
I’m a sucker for books about true-life adventures beyond the end of the road, so North Vancouver-based explorer Frank Wolf’s new book was totally addictive. I couldn’t stop turning the pages, nor could I stop interrupting the breathtaking narrative to flip back to check the lines on his maps, or marvel at the photographs of distant locales few humans have tread. Before I was halfway through, I was in wonder that Wolf is still alive. In fact, Wolf has survived countless worldwide explorations, and the magic of this book is reading about how he did it. Lines On A Map is written with self-aware humour, high-stakes survivalist drama and a frank awareness of our fragile, beautiful planet.
Murder By Milkshake: An Astonishing True Story of Adultery, Arsenic, and a Charismatic Killer by Eve Lazarus (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Top-notch true crime writer Eve Lazarus has expertly unravelled one of Vancouver’s most notorious and sensational crimes: the drawn-out and disturbingly premeditated 1965 murder of Esther Castellani. Her husband, media figure Rene Castellani, was eventually charged and convicted with murder. But was he guilty? Rene and Esther’s daughter Jeannine grew up wanting to believe that her father was innocent. Now Jeannine, along with anyone who reads Lazarus’s fascinating book, knows the real story behind the bizarre Milkshake Murder.
Off the Hook: the Essential West Coast Seafood Recipes by DL Acken and Aurelia Louvet (TouchWood Editions)
Yes, this is a cook book, and no, I don’t do all that much cooking, but this past summer I had the chance to dive into this beautiful book, and it stuck with me ever since. Off The Hook reads more like a love letter to the West Coast than your typical collection of recipes. The recipes and accompanying photos are easy and delicious: learn how to make your own blackened cod tacos or how to flash cook spot prawns, or discover what a Tofino Beach Boil is all about. You’ll also be tipped off to which local seafood is sustainable and which should be avoided (Chinook salmon for instance, if you are interested in orca preservation). After immersing yourself in Off the Hook, you’ll come away with a much deeper respect for our ocean and its bounty. A must-have for any West Coast kitchen.
Property Values by Charles Demers (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Some say the best kind of art reflects our lives back to us; it makes us think, laugh, cry, or at the very least, take notice of our surroundings in a different light. Vancouver author/comedian/activist Charlie Demers has managed to lace many of those attributes together in his searing and darkly hilarious 2018 novel Property Values. As the pages turn, you’re taken on a fast-paced, sharply written drive-by that slams together two of Vancouver’s most infamous topics: real estate and gangsters. Demers unites both worlds in a fury of action that is at times very funny, disturbing, absurd and dead on the money.
Grant Lawrence is the author of three award-winning nonfiction books, most of which are at least partially set in Vancouver.