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Your CAN'T FAIL Summer Reading List

An excellent stack of summer reads guaranteed to make those long days (and nights!) even better. 

book cover thirteen shells

Summertime ... and the books are amazing. Here we present you with an excellent stack of great summer reads guaranteed to make those long days (and nights!) even better. 


Thirteen Shells, by Nadia Bozak

About the book: Spanning the late 1970s to the late 1980s, Nadia Bozak’s thirteen stories are narrated from the perspective of Shell, the only child of bohemian artisans determined to live off their handicrafts and uphold a left-wing lifestyle. At the age of five, Shell’s world is transformed when the family moves into a new house, where she grows up. Over time, she gradually trades her unconventional upbringing for junk food, rock music, and boys. All the while, Shell quietly watches her parents’ loveless marriage fall apart and learns to survive divorce, weight gain, heartache, and first love.

A funny, sensitive portrayal of the innocence and uncertainty of childhood and adolescence, Thirteen Shells is a true-to-life collection that is as unforgettable as it is poignant.

Why we're taking notice: This is a slow and quiet book, perfect for long summer days. Its structure has been compared to Lives of Girls and Women, using stories to show a young woman's coming of age. If that's your kind of book, then don't miss this one from the acclaimed Bozak.


Book Cover A Cast of Falcons

A Cast of Falcons, by Steve Burrows

About the book: A man falls to his death from a cliff face in western Scotland. From a distance, another man watches. He approaches the body, tucks a book into the dead man’s pocket, and leaves.

When the Scottish police show visiting Detective Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune the book, he recognizes it as a call for help. But he also knows that answering that call could destroy the life he and his girlfriend Lindy have built for themselves in the village of Saltmarsh, in north Norfolk.

Back in Saltmarsh, the brutal murder of a researcher involved in a local climate change project has everyone looking at the man’s controversial studies as a motive. But Sergeant Danny Maik, heading the investigation in Jejeune’s absence, believes a huge cash incentive being offered for the research may play a crucial role.

With their beleaguered Chief Superintendent blocking every attempt to interview the project’s uber-wealthy owners, Jejeune and Maik must work together to find their answers. But will the men’s partnership survive when the danger from above begins to cast its dark shadow?

Why we're taking notice: Are you a cozy mystery fan? We are, and have been reading Burrows since his Arthur Ellis Award-winning debut two years ago. The books are smart, funny, and nerdy (grammar and birdwatching are among characters' preoccupations) with the most endearingly feminist bent. This third book is the best one yet. 


Book Cover The Light That Remains

The Light That Remains, by Lyse Champagne

About the book: The despair of refugees has haunted us long before the civil war in Syria. Lyse Champagne's evocative new story collection attempts to put these collective and individual tragedies into a historical context.

Two Armenian sisters write to each other in the year leading up to their deportations. A young Ukrainian mother embroiders her life story as famine threatens. A boy travels to Hong Kong by train while the Japanese march towards his hometown of Nanjing. A Jewish girl collects words and falls in love as she hides in a French mountain village in 1942. A Cambodian refugee recalls his childhood in his home country and his new life in Canada on a makeshift stage. A Rwandan family prepares to emigrate days before President Habyarimana's plane is shot down.

Why we're taking notice: This past Monday was World Refugee Day, and it is important to realize that our current refugee crises are part of a larger context, just some of many stories of people risking everything for a better life or for the possibility of life at all. Lyse Champagne is an award-winning playwright and her skill at putting words to different voices is on display here in her latest book. 


Book Cover White Elephant

White Elephant, by Catherine Cooper

About the book: Physician Richard Berringer, his wife, Ann, and their thirteen-year-old son, Torquil, have abandoned their home in Nova Scotia and moved to Sierra Leone, despite warnings that the West African country is in a civil war. Two months on, things are not going well. Tensions are rising between Richard and his boss; Torquil—who hates Sierra Leone almost as much as he hates his father—has launched a hunger strike; and Ann is bedridden with illnesses that Richard believes are all in her head. While the Berringers battle with themselves, each other and the worlds they inhabit, the narrative repeatedly returns to their past, shedding light on what brought them together, what keeps them together, why they have come to Africa, and why they might not be able to go home again.

Why we're taking notice: Who thought this was a good idea? Family falling apart in Canada decides the solution is to move across the world to a country on the verge of civil war. Things are not going to go well, and while the tension is a bit unbearable, it's really hard to put this book down. 



Book Cover A Gentle Habit

A Gentle Habit, by Cherie Dimaline

About the book: The inspiration for the collection comes from American Poet Charles Bukowski who wrote "In between the punctuating agonies, life is such a gentle habit." Following this theme of extraordinary ordinariness, A Gentle Habit is a collection of six new short stories focusing on the addictions of a diverse group of characters attempting normalcy in an unnatural world.

Why we're taking notice: Joseph Boyden has called the award-winning Dimaline "one of our most fresh and exciting voices." With humour and insight, and settings as wide-ranging as a Northern Ontario school playground, an East York suburb, and the Nova Scotia coast, these stories show the various ways characters get lost and found inside their addictions and obsessions. Plus, Dimaline is a champion sentence maker. 


The Dancehall Years

The Dancehall Years, by Joan Haggerty 

About the book: Both an epic adventure and an interracial drama, this spellbinding novel brims with gorgeous writing. The complex family saga begins one summer on Bowen Island and in Vancouver during the Depression and moves through Pearl Harbour, the evacuation of the Japanese and three generations into the 1980s. Gwen Killam is a child whose idyllic island summers are obliterated by the war and consequent dramatically changed behavior of the adults around her. Her swimming teacher, Takumi, disappears along with his parents. The Lower Mainland is in blackout, and Gwen’s beloved Aunt Isabelle painfully realizes she must make an unthinkable sacrifice.

The island’s dance hall, a well-known destination for both soldiers on leave and summer picnickers, becomes the emotional landmark for time passing and time remembered.

Why we're taking notice: Don't you get a bit of a Dirty Dancing vibe? With the addition of a Japanese gardener. Plus, if you download a sneak peek from our Members' Lounge, you'll find that the novel comes not just with a family tree at the start, but even a map—which is book magic. Sweeping sagas are what summer was made for.


Book Cover This Marlowe

This Marlowe, by Michelle Butler Hallett

About the book: 1593. Queen Elizabeth reigns from the throne while two rival spymasters—Sir Robert Cecil and the Earl of Essex—plot from the shadows. Their goal? To control succession upon the aged queen's death. The man on which their schemes depend? Christopher Marlowe, a cobbler's son from Canterbury who has defied expectations and become an accomplished poet and playwright. Now that the plague has closed theatres, Marlowe must resume the work for which he was originally recruited: intelligence and espionage.

Fighting to stay one step ahead in a dizzying game that threatens the lives of those he holds most dear, Marlowe comes to question his allegiances and nearly everything he once believed. As tensions mount, he is tossed into an impossible bind. He must choose between paths that lead either to wretched guilt and miserable death or to love and honour.

An historical novel with a contemporary edge, This Marlowe measures the weight of the body politic, the torment of the flesh, and the state of the soul.

Why we're taking notice: Quill & Quire called Hallett's novel "Complex, lyrical, and with a profound sense of a world long passed and humanity’s eternal motivations," the reviewer noting that the depth of the characters brings the book to life. A perfect book for someone who likes their summer reading on the historical side. 


Book Cover Weekend

Weekend, by Jane Eaton Hamilton

About the book: Prize-winning writer Jane Eaton Hamilton's novel explores the complexities of contemporary queer love.

On her fiftieth birthday, crazy-in-love Ajax visits her mercurial lover Logan, who trails their tarnished reputation like a lapsed halo. Logan has secrets, but so does Ajax, and during their weekend getaway to Ontario's cottage country, some of these secrets will prove explosive.

In the next cottage, long-term couple Joe and Elliot are having their own challenges as the parents of a newborn baby girl. Joe isn't sure if Elliot loves her or even if Elliot wanted a baby at all. Can she make it through a weekend feeling as she does, let alone the rest of her life?

Jane Eaton Hamilton's ninth book is an intimate, sexy queer romance. Weekend is a bold and heartbreaking consideration of the true nature of love at the cusp of middle age, about trust, negotiation, and what's worth keeping in the end.  

Why we're taking notice: Because it's a cottage weekend book, obviously. And Zoe Whittle calls this book "both a sexy romp and tender exploration of vulnerability."


Book Cover We're All In This Together

We're All In This Together, by Amy Jones

About the book: Like all families, the Parkers of Thunder Bay have had their share of complications. But when matriarch Kate Parker miraculously survives plummeting over a waterfall in a barrel—a feat captured on a video that goes viral—it's Kate's family who tumbles into chaos under the spotlight. Her prodigal daughter returns to town. Her 16-year-old granddaughter gets caught up in an online relationship with a man she has never met. Her husband sifts through their marriage to search for what sent his wife over the falls. Her adopted son fears losing the only family he's ever known. Then there is Kate, who once made a life-changing choice and now fears her advancing dementia will rob her of memories from when she was most herself. Set over the course of four calamitous days, Amy Jones's big-hearted first novel follows the Parkers' misadventures as catastrophe forces them to do something they never thought possible —act like a family.

Why we're taking notice: We speak from experience when we say that this is THE book to spend a whole day in a hammock reading while one is mildly hungover. The pieces of this novel are woven together in the most excellent, surprising, and satisfying way.


Book Cover The Language of Secrets

The Language of Secrets, by Ausma Zehanet Khan

About the book: Detective Esa Khattak heads up Canada's Community Policing Section, which handles minority-sensitive cases across all levels of law enforcement. Khattak is still under scrutiny for his last case, so he's surprised when INSET, Canada's national security team, calls him in on another politically sensitive issue. For months, INSET has been investigating a local terrorist cell which is planning an attack on New Year's Day. INSET had an informant, Mohsin Dar, undercover inside the cell. But now, just weeks before the attack, Mohsin has been murdered at the group's training camp deep in the woods.

INSET wants Khattak to give the appearance of investigating Mohsin's death, and then to bury the lead. They can't risk exposing their operation, or Mohsin's role in it. But Khattak used to know Mohsin, and he knows he can't just let this murder slide. So Khattak sends his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, undercover into the unsuspecting mosque which houses the terrorist cell. As Rachel tentatively reaches out into the unfamiliar world of Islam, and begins developing relationships with the people of the mosque and the terrorist cell within it, the potential reasons for Mohsin's murder only seem to multiply, from the political and ideological to the intensely personal.

Why we're taking notice: Because Khan was amazing in our Crime Fiction Virtual Round Table last month. Because the idea of a mystery written by someone with a PhD in International Human Rights Law is totally compelling. And because her previous novel just won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. We think we've made our case. 


Book Cover The Most Heartless Town

The Most Heartless Town in Canada, by Elaine McCluskey

About the book: Myrtle is not one of those communities with a town historian or a roster of famous residents. Myrtle does, however, have a poultry plant, and looming above the plant are the eagles, massive birds that roost in trees and feast on entrails left by workers, creatures synonymous with power, freedom and might. The story starts with a newspaper photo taken in an obscure Nova Scotia town after the murder of eight bald eagles. The bizarre photo wins a contest and, over time, the unidentified girl in the foreground becomes, like Diane Arbus's "Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park", infamous. Rita Van Loon decides, after seven painful years, to explain herself and the events surrounding the murders. The Most Heartless Town in Canada looks at media agendas, amateur sport, family dynamics, and the divide between rural and urban Canada.

Why we're taking notice: Sunshine Sketches can get stuffed. THIS is the small town satire we need in the world. McCluskey is one of Canada's funniest writers, and manages to show no mercy and yet be tenderhearted right at the very same time. 


Book Cover I'm Thinking of Ending THings

I'm Thinking of Ending Things, by Iain Reid

About the book: You will be scared. But you won’t know why…

I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It’s always there. Always.
Jake and I have a real connection, a rare and intense attachment. What has it been...a month? I’m very attracted to him. Even though he isn’t striking, not really. I’m going to meet his parents for the first time, at the same time as I’m thinking of ending things.
Jake once said, “Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”
And here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t want to be here.
I’m thinking of ending things.

Why we're taking notice: Because the book is so darn good! Because it's a gripping novel that no one will compare to The Girl on the Train as it's something altogether new and different. And because it's the rare kind of thriller you want to go back and read again as soon as the last page is done. 


Book Cover On the Shores of Darkness There is Light

On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light, by Cordelia Strube

About the book: Harriet is 11 going on 30. Her mixed-media art is a source of wonder to her younger brother, Irwin, but an unmitigated horror to the panoply of insufficiently grown-up grown-ups who surround her. She plans to run away to Algonquin Park, hole up in a cabin like Tom Thomson and paint trees; and so, to fund her escape, she runs errands for the seniors who inhabit the Shangrila, the decrepit apartment building that houses her fractured family.

Determined, resourceful, and a little reckless, Harriet tries to navigate the clueless adults around her, dumpster dives for the flotsam and jetsam that fuels her art, and attempts to fathom her complicated feelings for Irwin, who suffers from hydrocephalus. On the other hand, Irwin’s love for Harriet is not conflicted at all. She’s his compass. But Irwin himself must untangle the web of the human heart.

Masterful and piercingly funny, Strube is at the top of her considerable form in this deliciously subversive story of love and redemption.

Why we're taking notice: This novel broke a lot of hearts this spring, but we promise you the pain will be worth it. On the Shores of Darkness is heavy, but also hilarious, and is such a strong, beautiful book that never misses a literary beat. 


book cover do not say we have nothing

Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien

About the book: Madeleine Thien's new novel is breathtaking in scope and ambition even as it is hauntingly intimate. With the ease and skill of a master storyteller, Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations--those who lived through Mao's Cultural Revolution in the mid-twentieth century; and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, in one of the most important political moments of the past century. With exquisite writing sharpened by a surprising vein of wit and sly humour, Thien has crafted unforgettable characters who are by turns flinty and headstrong, dreamy and tender, foolish and wise. 

At the centre of this epic tale, as capacious and mysterious as life itself, are enigmatic Sparrow, a genius composer who wishes desperately to create music yet can find truth only in silence; his mother and aunt, Big Mother Knife and Swirl, survivors with captivating singing voices and an unbreakable bond; Sparrow's ethereal cousin Zhuli, daughter of Swirl and storyteller Wen the Dreamer, who as a child witnesses the denunciation of her parents and as a young woman becomes the target of denunciations herself; and headstrong, talented Kai, best friend of Sparrow and Zhuli, and a determinedly successful musician who is a virtuoso at masking his true self until the day he can hide no longer. Here, too, is Kai's daughter, the ever-questioning mathematician Marie, who pieces together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking a fragile meaning in the layers of their collective story.

With maturity and sophistication, humour and beauty, a huge heart and impressive understanding, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once beautifully intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of daily life inside China, yet transcendent in its universality.

Why we're taking notice: David B. Hobbs writes in the Globe and Mail, "Do Not Say We Have Nothing will cement Madeleine Thien as one of Canada’s most talented novelists, at once a successor to Rohinton Mistry and a wholly singular stylist." With this book, Thien reaches far in terms of ambition, which is commendable enough; that that the book succeeds within these terms is even more remarkable. 


Book Cover The Lesser Blessed

The Lesser Blessed, by Richard Van Camp

About the book: Larry is a Dogrib Indian growing up in the small northern town of Fort Simmer. His tongue, his hallucinations and his fantasies are hotter than the centre of the sun. At sixteen, he loves Iron Maiden, the North and Juliet Hope, the high school "tramp."

In this powerful and very funny first novel, Richard Van Camp gives us one of the most original teenage characters in Canadian fiction. Skinny as spaghetti, nervy and self-deprecating, Larry is an appealing mixture of bravado and vulnerability. His past holds many terrors: an abusive father, blackouts from sniffing gasoline, an accident that killed several of his cousins, and he's now being hunted and haunted by a pack of blue monkeys. But through his new friendship with Johnny, a Metis who just moved to town, he's now ready to face his memories—and his future.

The Lesser Blessed is an eye-opening depiction of what it is to be a young Dogrib man in the age of AIDS, disillusionment with Catholicism and a growing world consciousness.

Why we're taking notice: On the 20th Anniversary of this book's original publication, a new edition has been brought forth to celebrate this iconic coming-of-age novel. If you haven't discovered it yet for yourself, there has never been a better time. 


Book Cover Smoke

Smoke, by Dan Vyeleta

About the book: An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real.

An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie—knowledge that could cost them their lives. A grand estate where secrets lurk in attic rooms and hidden laboratories. A love triangle. A desperate chase. Revolutionaries and secret police. Religious fanatics and coldhearted scientists. Murder. A London filled with danger and wonder. A tortured relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a mother and a son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn’t clear.

This is the world of Smoke, a narrative tour de force, a tale of Dickensian intricacy and ferocious imaginative power, richly atmospheric and intensely suspenseful.

Why we're taking notice: The Giller-nominated Vyeleta's latest is getting great reviews. It's an all-absorbing historical thriller.


Book Cover Congratulations on Everything

Congratulations on Everything, by Nathan Whitlock

About the book: Jeremy has bought into the teachings of an empowerment and success guru, hook, line, and sinker. A Toronto service industry lifer, he’s risen through the ranks until he finally takes the keys to his destiny and opens his own place, The Ice Shack.

Everyone assumes Ice Shack daytime waitress Charlene is innocent and empathetic, but in reality she’s desperately unhappy and looking for a way out of her marriage to her high-school sweetheart. A drunken encounter sends Charlene and her boss careening. The Ice Shack stops being an oasis of sanity and, as Jeremy struggles to keep his business afloat, he’ll stop at nothing to maintain his successful, good guy self-image.

In an era when the gourmand rules and chefs become superstars, Congratulations On Everything is a hilarious and occasionally uncomfortable dose of anti-foodie reality that reveals what goes on when the customers and Instagrammers aren’t around—and even sometimes when they are.

Why we're taking notice: Because dreams are what summer is made of ... but then those dreams come down to earth, hitting reality with a concrete smack. Whitlock's novel is entertaining and true-to-life, however uncomfortably so. 

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