Reese Witherspoon knows how to pick 'em—she's well on her way to becoming the Oprah's Book Club of our time. Our only criticism? Her books aren't Canadian enough. So to remedy that, we've paired some of her stellar picks with Canadian counterparts. Definitely keep these in mind for your book club and when you're planning your next great read.
If you liked The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott, then try....
A Killer in Kings Cove, by Iona Whishaw (and the rest of the books in the Lane Winslow Mystery series)
Why we picked it: Historical fiction fans (who love a bit of Soviet intrigue) will love this series about a brilliant ex-spy who tries to settle down for a quieter life in British Columbia after World War Two, but who finds that mystery follows her wherever she goes.
About the book: It is 1946, and war-weary young ex-intelligence officer Lane Winslow leaves London to look for a fresh start. When she finds herself happily settled into a sleepy hamlet in the interior of British Columbia surrounded by a suitably eclectic cast of small-town characters she feels like she may finally be able to put her past to rest.
But then a body is discovered, the victim of murder, and although she works alongside the town’s inspectors Darling and Ames to discover who might have possibly have motivation to kill, she unknowingly casts doubt on herself. As the investigation reveals facts that she has desperately tried to keep a secret, it threatens to pull her into a vortex of even greater losses than the ones she has already endured.
If you liked The Last House Guest, by Megan Miranda, then try...
Boundary, by Andrée A. Michaud
Why we picked it: This gripping novel about teenage friendship – and its dark sides – exposes the hidden dangers of idyllic summer places. Boundary won the Governor General’s Award for French fiction as well as an Arthur Ellis Award; it was also longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
About the book: In the deep woods of the Maine borderlands, the legend of huntsman Pete Landry is still told around cottage campfires to scare children, a tragic story of love, lust, and madness. During the early summer of 1967, inseparable teenage beauties Sissy Morgan and Zaza Mulligan wander among the vacation cottages in the community of Boundary, drinking and smoking and swearing, attracting the attention of boys and men. First one, and then the other, goes missing, and both are eventually found dead in the forest. Have they been the victims of freak accidents? Or is someone hunting the young women of Boundary? And if there is a hunter, who might be next? The Summer of Love quickly becomes the Summer of Fear, and detective Stan Michaud, already haunted by a case he could not solve, is determined to find out what exactly is happening in Boundary before someone else is found dead.
A story of deep psychological power and unbearable suspense, Andrée A. Michaud’s award-winning Boundary is an utterly gripping read about a community divided by suspicion and driven together by primal terror.
If you liked The Cactus, by Sarah Haywood, then try...
Roost, by Ali Bryan
Why we picked it: An absolutely delightful story of unconventional family arrangements with a narrator who will win your heart—in spite of herself. Roost won the Georges Bugnet Prize for Fiction and Bryan's latest book was shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.
About the book: Claudia, single mom of two, pines for her past independent life. Her ex, after all, has moved on to a new wardrobe, new hobbies and—worst of all—new adult friends. But in Claudia's house she's still finding bananas in the sock drawer, cigarettes taped to wrestling figures, and colourful doodles on her MasterCard bills. Then Claudia receives the unexpected news that her mother has died.
Shared through the hilarious, honest, and often poignant perspective of a single mother, Roost is the story of a woman learning about motherhood while grieving the loss of her own mother. And as she begins to mend, she's also learning that she might be able to accept her home—even as it is.
If you liked From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, by Tembi Locke, then try...
Come Away With Me, by Karma Brown
Why we picked it: Brown's debut novel is a similarly gorgeous and transporting portrayal of loss and resilience.
About the book: One minute, Tegan Lawson has everything she could hope for: an adoring husband, Gabe, and a baby on the way. The next, a patch of black ice causes a devastating accident that will change her life in ways she never could have imagined.
Tegan is consumed by grief—not to mention her anger toward Gabe, who was driving on the night of the crash. But just when she thinks she's hit rock bottom, Gabe reminds her of their Jar of Spontaneity, a collection of their dream destinations and experiences, and so begins an adventure of a lifetime.
From the bustling markets of Thailand to the flavors of Italy to the ocean waves in Hawaii, Tegan and Gabe embark on a journey to escape the tragedy and search for forgiveness. But they soon learn that grief follows you no matter how far away you run, and that acceptance comes when you least expect it. Heartbreaking, hopeful and utterly transporting, Come Away with Me is an unforgettable debut and a luminous celebration of the strength of the human spirit.
If you liked Daisy Jones and the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, then try...
Every Little Piece of Me, by Amy Jones
Why we picked it: Another book that blurs the lines between documentary and fiction and that explores the dark side of fame.
About the book: The first time they met, Mags saved Ava's life. The second time they met, Ava saved Mags's.
Ava Hart is the most reluctant cast member of a reality TV show based on her big city family's (mostly staged) efforts to run a B&B in small-town Nova Scotia. Every family has its problems, but Ava has grown up seeing her family's every up and down broadcast on national television, after the show becomes an unexpected success for reasons that will take a heavy toll on the Harts.
Mags Kovach is the charismatic lead singer of a struggling Halifax rock band hoping to be the Next Big Thing. For years she's managed to contain her demons and navigate the uglier aspects of being a woman in the music world, but after a devastating loss, she turns her anger on the only person she can: herself.
As their private tragedies continue to set social media and tabloid headlines on fire, their every move subjected to an endless stream of public commentary, it will be their unexpected friendship that will save them. They will push back against the roles they've been forced to play, and take back control of something they thought they'd lost forever—the right to their own stories.
If you liked The Library Book, by Susan Orlean, then try...
The Incident Report, by Martha Baillie
Why we picked it: It's a very different kind of book (a novel instead of nonfiction) but it also taps into the incredible story of libraries as public spaces.
About the book: In a Toronto library, home to the mad and the marginalized, notes appear, written by someone who believes he is Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester from Verdi’s opera. Convinced that the young librarian, Miriam, is his daughter, he promises to protect her from grief. Little does he know how much loss she has already experienced; or does he? The Incident Report, both mystery and love story, daringly explores the fragility of our individual identities. Strikingly original in its structure, comprised of 140 highly distilled, lyric “reports,” the novel depicts the tensions between private and public storytelling, the subtle dynamics of a socially exposed workplace. The Incident Report is a novel of “gestures,” one that invites the reader to be astonished by the circumstances its characters confront. Reports on bizarre public behaviour intertwine with reports on the private life of the novel’s narrator. Shifting constantly between harmony and dissonance, elegant in its restraint and excitingly contemporary, The Incident Report takes the pulse of our fragmented urban existence with detachment and wit, while a quiet tragedy unfolds.
If you liked The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo, then try...
Dragon Springs Road, by Janie Chang
Why we picked it: It's set in Shanghai instead of Malaysia, and it features a fox instead of a tiger, but Janie Chang's bestselling Dragon Spring Road is, like The Night Tiger, an evocative piece of historical fiction.
About the book: In early-twentieth-century Shanghai, an ancient imperial dynasty collapses, a new government struggles to life and two girls are bound together in a friendship that will be tested by duty, honour and love.
Abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate outside Shanghai, seven-year-old Jialing learns she is zazhong—Eurasian—and thus doomed to face a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. The Yang family, new owners of the estate, reluctantly take her in as a servant. As Jialing grows up, her only allies are Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the courtyard for more than three hundred years. But when a young English girl appears and befriends the lonely orphan—and then mysteriously vanishes—Jialing’s life takes an unexpected turn.
As Jialang grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, she must find a way to survive political intrigue, jealousy, forbidden love and even murder. Through every turn she is guided, both by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past toward a very different fate.
If you liked The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman, then try...
Rose's Run, by Dawn Dumont
Why we picked it: Dumont received great acclaim for her most recent book, Glass Beads (read it!), but you should also pick up her previous book, which takes place at the intersection of magic and women's power.
About the book: Rose Okanese, a single mother with two kids, has been pushed into a corner by Rez citizens to claim some self-respect, and decides that the fastest way to do that would be for her to run the reserve's annual marathon. Though Rose hasn't run in twenty years, smokes and initially has little motivation, she announces her intention to run the race. One quality Rose doesn't lack is spontaneity which sometimes clashes with her iron will and though she has initial regrets about opening her mouth, her life begins to dictate that she must follow through. But as fate will dictate, one rather huge unforeseen outcome of her decision is that she will have to do battle with an old inadvertently conjured demon that feeds off the strength of women. She is a truly mean old spirit who can invade other women and have them do her bidding and in no time has the Rez in an uproar. As Rose discovers, the old demon has been unintentionally called forth by Rose's teen daughter, Sarah, which complicates Rose's life just a little more. The spirit woman creates a reign of fear and havoc by appearing to people on the reserve and freaking them out, all of which leads to incidents of extreme humour and plot-twisting bemusement, liberally sprinkled with some jittery acts of valour. With a cast of unusual and unfamiliar characters, Dumont interweaves a tale of motherly love, friendship, lustful longing, wîhtikow lore, and Rez humour and keeps the hoopla going until the race is done.
If you liked Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng, then try...
The Conjoined, by Jen Sookfong Lee
Why we picked it: This one was longlisted for the 2018 International Dublin Literary Award. Like Little Fires, it starts with a disturbing crime, and it explores the gap between the realities of our society and who we suppose ourselves to be.
About the book: On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery—two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng—troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.
As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.
Moving between present and past, this riveting novel unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and traces the often-hidden fractures that divide our diverse cities.
If you liked This is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel, then try...
Little Fish, by Casey Plett
Why we picked it: Another book about trans experience, but this time from the point of view of the protagonist. Plett's novel was winner of the Amazon Canada First Novel Award and a Lambda Literary Award, and was widely acclaimed in general.
About the book: It's the dead of winter in Winnipeg and Wendy Reimer, a thirty-year-old trans woman, feels like her life is frozen in place. When her Oma passes away Wendy receives an unexpected phone call from a distant family friend with a startling secret: Wendy's Opa (grandfather)—a devout Mennonite farmer—might have been transgender himself. At first she dismisses this revelation, but as Wendy's life grows increasingly volatile, she finds herself aching for the lost pieces of her Opa's truth. Can Wendy unravel the mystery of her grandfather's world and reckon with the culture that both shaped and rejected her? She's determined to try.
Alternately warm-hearted and dark-spirited, desperate and mirthful, Little Fish explores the winter of discontent in the life of one transgender woman as her past and future become irrevocably entwined.
If you liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman, then try...
Bad Ideas, by Missy Marston
Why we picked it: It's a fabulous book about a woman who dares to come out of her shell and take the risk of human connection.
About the book: Wildly funny and wonderfully moving, Bad Ideas is about just that—a string of bad ideas—and the absurdity of love
Trudy works nights in a linen factory, avoiding romance and sharing the care of her four-year-old niece with Trudy’s mother, Claire. Claire still pines for Trudy’s father, a St. Lawrence Seaway construction worker who left her twenty years ago. Claire believes in true love. Trudy does not. She’s keeping herself to herself. But when Jules Tremblay, aspiring daredevil, walks into the Jubilee restaurant, Trudy’s a goner.
Loosely inspired by Ken “the Crazy Canuck” Carter’s attempt to jump the St. Lawrence River in a rocket car, and set in a 1970s hollowed-out town in eastern Ontario, Bad Ideas paints an indelible portrait of people on the forgotten fringes of life. Witty and wise, this is a novel that will stay with you a long time.
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