Rereading is comfort, and indulgence. It's a voyage back to the familiar, but one that's still rich with discovery, and this is the kind of experience I'm hungry for right now. I made this book list after cruising around my home library with a thought to which books I've long been meaning to read again and others that seem like perfect fare for our particular moment.
What are the books on your own shelves that you're looking forward to returning to? Share your favourites on Twitter or Facebook!
Splitsville, by Howard Akler
About the book: A bookseller's love affair, start to finish, against the backdrop of a city in protest.
It's 1971. Hal Sachs runs a used bookstore. Business isn't so great, and the store is in a part of Toronto that's about to be paved over with a behemoth expressway. And then Hal meets Lily Klein, an activist schoolteacher who'll do just about anything to stop the highway. It's love at first sight. Until it isn't. And then Hal vanishes.
A half-century later, Hal's nephew, Aitch, waits for his baby to be born as he tries to piece together facts and fictions about Hal's disappearance.
Splitsville is a diamond-cut love letter to a city whose defining moment was to say 'no way' to a highway, and a look at the obsessions that carry down through a family.
Roost, by Ali Bryan
About the book: Claudia, single mother of two young children, pines for her past independent life. Her ex, after all, has moved on to a new wardrobe, a new penchant for lattes, and new adult friends. But in Claudia's house she's still finding bananas in the sock drawer, cigarettes taped to wrestling figures, and doodles on her MasterCard bills. Then Claudia receives the unexpected news that her mother has died.
As Claudia attempts to gain control of her life, she realizes that her fellow family members also struggle with uncertainty. Her brother's family appears picture perfect—the children always clean, the puzzles never missing pieces—but he and his wife hunger for a break from parenthood. Her father has joined a curling team and seems to be active in the community. Yet he orders product after as-seen-on-tv product for his own empty nest.
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 as it is.
Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome, by Megan Gal Coles
About the book: Eating Habits Of The Chronically Lonesome will leave you struck, yet, exhilarated. The exploration of starvation and consumption is at the core of each character; what does our hunger reveal about the state of our soft hearts? Ellen jumps rope on rooftops in the searing Korean sun. She has sworn off carbohydrates until she can find pants that fit. Damon resents his two dollar chow mein bought on a Montreal curb. There are half-eaten poutines on living room floors and greasy corn kernels stuck to chins. There are weak cocktails, cheap coffees, white plastic forks, and cigarettes. Everywhere.
These interwoven stories are propulsive. They pull back the blast shield to reveal blinding interior voices; unrepentant and raw. Coles’ irreverent characters scorch, and strangely comfort us, as they struggle to process the permeable nature of their thoughts. Such are the sardonically complex and humourous Eating Habits Of The Chronically Lonesome.
Lady Franklin of Russell Square, by Erika Behrisch Elce
About the book: Spring, 1847, and Lady Franklin is back in London expecting to greet her hero husband, polar explorer Sir John Franklin, upon his triumphant return from the Northwest Passage. But as weeks turn to months, she reluctantly grows into her public role as Franklin's steadfast wife, the "Penelope of England." In this novel that imagines a rich interior life of one of Victorian England's most intriguing women, the boundaries of friendship, propriety, and love are bound to collide.
Sputnik’s Children, by Terri Favro
About the book: Cult comic book creator Debbie Reynolds Biondi has been riding the success of her Cold War era–inspired superhero series, Sputnik Chick: Girl with No Past, for more than 25 years. But with the comic book losing fans and Debbie struggling to come up with new plotlines for her badass, mutant-killing heroine, she decides to finally tell Sputnik Chick’s origin story.
Debbie’s never had to make anything up before and she isn’t starting now. Sputnik Chick is based on Debbie’s own life in an alternate timeline called Atomic Mean Time. As a teenager growing up in Shipman’s Corners—a Rust Belt town voted by Popular Science magazine as “most likely to be nuked”—she was recruited by a self-proclaimed time traveller to collapse Atomic Mean Time before an all-out nuclear war grotesquely altered humanity. In trying to save the world, Debbie risked obliterating everyone she’d ever loved—as well as her own past—in the process.
Or so she believes . . . Present-day Debbie is addicted to lorazepam and dirty, wet martinis, making her an unreliable narrator, at best. A time-bending novel that delves into the origin story of the Girl with No Past, Sputnik’s Children explores what it was like to come of age in the Atomic Age.
Kiss the Joy as it Flies, by Sheree Fitch
About the book: Set in the fictional Maritime town of Odell, with a cast of exasperating but lovable characters, Kiss the Joy As It Flies promises to be a remarkable debut and a reader's favorite. Panic-stricken by the news that she needs exploratory surgery, forty-eight-year-old Mercy Beth Fanjoy drafts a monumental to-do list and sets about putting her messy life in order. Among other things (hide the vibrator!), she's determined to finally uncover the identity of her secret admirer; reconnect with long-lost friend and rival Teeny Gaudet; and, most importantly, get her hands on the note her father left before committing suicide all those years ago. But tidying up the edges of her life means the past comes rushing back to haunt her and the present keeps throwing up more to-do's. Between fits of weeping and laughter, ranting and bliss, Mercy must contemplate the meaning of life in the face of her own death. In a week filled with the riot of an entire life, nothing turns out the way she'd expected.
What Can You Do, by Cynthia Flood
About the book: In these twelve stories that unfold over a few hours or a weekend or five decades, adults deceive themselves about their motives—greed, desire for control, jealousy, fear, ambition. With unflinching realism reminiscent of William Trevor, Cynthia Flood exposes the failings of the human heart and, with a marvellous unsentimental brutality, leaves many a character unredeemed.
The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, by Kim Fu
About the book: A group of young girls descends on Camp Forevermore, a sleepaway camp in the Pacific Northwest, where their days are filled with swimming lessons, friendship bracelets and camp songs by the fire. Bursting with excitement and nervous energy, they set off on an overnight kayaking trip to a nearby island. But before the night is over, they find themselves stranded, with no adults to help them survive or guide them home.
The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore follows these five girls—Nita, Kayla, Isabel, Dina and Siobhan—through and beyond this fateful trip. We see the survivors through the successes and failures, loves and heartbreaks of their teen and adult years, and we come to understand how a tragedy can alter the lives it touches in innumerable ways. In diamond-sharp prose, Kim Fu gives us a portrait of friendship and of the families we build for ourselves—and the pasts we can’t escape.
Motherish, by Laura Rock Gaughan
About the book: The women who populate Laura Rock Gaughan’s debut collection, Motherish, veer from playful to distraught, reckless to restrained, anchored to unmoored. Gambling grandmas, athletes and organists, pregnant bus passengers and punitive bank tellers are pushed to the brink by Gaughan’s distinctively precise prose, while they grapple with what it means to mother and be mothered. With various perspectives, Gaughan creates box after box—and actual chicken coops—for her characters to explode from, hide in, emerge out of, and ultimately transform.
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
Mad Miss Mimic, by Sarah Henstra
About the book: It's London, 1872, where 17-year-old heiress Leonora Somerville is preparing to be presented to upper upper-class society—again. She's strikingly beautiful and going to be very rich, but Leo has a problem money can’t solve. A curious speech disorder causes her to stutter but also allows her to imitate other people’s voices flawlessly. Servants and ladies alike call her “Mad Miss Mimic” behind her back…and watch as Leo unintentionally scares off one potential husband after another. London is also a city gripped by opium fever. Leo’s brother-in-law Dr. Dewhurst and his new business partner Francis Thornfax are frontrunners in the race to patent an injectable formula of the drug. Friendly, forthright, and as a bonus devastatingly handsome, Thornfax seems immune to the gossip about Leo’s “madness.” But their courtship is endangered from the start. The mysterious Black Glove opium gang is setting off explosions across the city. The street urchins Dr. Dewhurst treats are dying of overdose. And then there is Tom Rampling, the working-class boy Leo can’t seem to get off her mind. As the violence closes in around her Leo must find the links between the Black Glove’s attacks, Tom’s criminal past, the doctor’s dangerous cure, and Thornfax’s political ambitions. But first she must find her voice.
The Lightning Field, by Heather Jessup
About the book: Set against the backdrop of Cold War Toronto, The Lightning Field follows the lives of Peter and Lucy Jacobs from their post-war courtship through marriage and child-rearing in the suburbs. Though spanning four decades, the book pivots on the events of a single day: October 4, 1957. On this day, the Russians launch Sputnik into orbit, the Avro Arrow—the most advanced jet plane of its time, whose wings Peter Jacobs has engineered—rolls out onto the tarmac to great ceremony, and, in a nearby field, Lucy Jacobs is struck by lightning on her way to the event. In the aftermath of that day, Peter struggles with his wife’s hospitalization and recovery, the care of their children, and, eventually, the loss of his job when the Arrow project is suddenly terminated. Their children—Kier, Andy and Rose—grow up in the sheltered cul-de-sacs of their Toronto suburb, troubled by the disappointments of their parents’ world, yet drawn to the infinite possibilities inspired by Laika the space dog and the mysteries of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. If so much of what their parents hoped for in life seemed ultimately out of reach, how will this next generation of dreamers find their way? The Lightning Field is about loss and unexpected offerings, personal dismantling and reassembly.
Rumi and the Red Handbag, by Shawna Lemay
About the book: Rumi and the Red Handbag follows the lives of Shaya and Ingrid-Simone, working together one winter at a second-hand clothing shop. Theodora's Consignment Shop becomes a small world where Shaya, an academic who abandoned studying the secrets of women writers, finds in Ingrid-Simone a reason to begin writing again, on scraps of paper and post-its. Fresh, unique and intelligent, Rumi and The Red Handbag is a journey to the Museum of Purses and Handbags in Amsterdam, a journey to find Rumi, the soul, and the secrets hidden in a red handbag.
The Letter Opener, by Kyo Maclear
About the book: Naiko works in the Undeliverable Mail Office where, immersed in things lost and missing, she searches for clues to match undeliverable mail with addresses. Her job allows her to achieve a semblance of order in a disorderly world. It is a shock, then, when Naiko’s co-worker Andrei, an enigmatic Romanian refugee, suddenly vanishes.
This astonishing debut novel unfolds in compelling, delicately wrought layers. Naiko’s shifting understanding of Andrei’s past becomes an opaque reflection of her own existence, and objects—from the pens hoarded by Naiko’s mother in her retirement home to the personal effects of Jewish women that Andrei’s grandmother sorts through at Birkenau—become touchstones for memories and meaning, loss and love.
The Love Monster, by Missy Marston
About the book: The Love Monster is the tall tale of one woman's struggle with mid-life issues. The main character, Margaret H. Atwood, has psoriasis, a boring job and a bad attitude. Her cheating husband has left her. And none of her pants fit any more.
Marston takes the reader on a hilarious journey of recovery. Hope comes in the form of a dope-smoking senior citizen, a religious fanatic, a good lawyer and a talking turtle (not to mention Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Warren Zevon, Neil Armstrong and a yogi buried deep underground). And, of course, hope comes in the form of a love-sick alien speaking in the voice of Donald Sutherland.
More than an irreverent joyride, The Love Monster is also a sweet and tender look at the pain and indignity of being an adult human and a sincere exploration of the very few available remedies: art, love, religion, relentless optimism, and alien intervention.
When I Was Young and In My Prime, by Alayna Munce
About the book: What's left of us when we're gone? In When I Was Young and In My Prime, a young woman watches her grandparents begin to decline. As she sorts through the couple's belongings, she reflects on the untold stories and unsung bonds that make up our lives. Meanwhile, modern urban life places strains on her own marriage and on her sense of what, ultimately, we owe each other.
Weaving together voices, diary entries, poems, conversations and lists, When I Was Young and In My Prime cuts to the heart of our search for intimacy and family, for what makes life meaningful and love real. The result is a smart, moving novel about personal and cultural decline, dignity and work, the urban and the rural, the old and the new, and the search for something ageless.
A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
About the book: In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.
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.
Iain Reid explores the depths of the human psyche, questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude. Reminiscent of José Saramago’s early work, Michel Faber’s cult classic Under the Skin, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, this tense and atmospheric novel will haunt you long after the last page is turned.
The Slip, by Mark Sampson
About the book: In this wickedly funny novel, one bad afternoon and two regrettable comments make the inimitable Philip Sharpe go viral for all the worst reasons.
Dr. Philip Sharpe, absent-minded professor extraordinaire, teaches philosophy at the University of Toronto and is one of Canada’s most combative public intellectuals. But when a live TV debate with his fiercest rival goes horribly off the rails, an oblivious Philip says some things to her that he really shouldn’t have.
As a clip of Philip’s “slip” goes viral, it soon reveals all the cracks and fissures in his marriage with his young, stay-at-home wife, Grace. And while the two of them try to get on the same side of the situation, things quickly spiral out of control.
Can Philip make amends and save his marriage? Is there any hope of salvaging his reputation? To do so, he’ll need to take a hard look at his on-air comments, and to conscript a band of misfits in a scheme to set things right.
The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields
About the book: The Stone Diaries is the story of one woman's life; a truly sensuous novel that reflects and illuminates the unsettled decades of our century.
Born in 1905, Daisy Goodwill drifts through the chapters of childhood, marriage, widowhood, remarriage, motherhood and old age. Bewildered by her inability to understand her own role, Daisy attempts to find a way to tell her own story within a novel that is itself about the limitations of autobiography.
Chez L’Arabe, by Mireille Silcoff
About the book: Inspired by the real life medical struggles of the author, this stunning debut collection opens with a gripping portrait of chronic illness in a series of linked stories about a woman in her mid-thirties, who is trapped in her elegantly accoutered Montreal townhouse—and in her own mind and body. As she struggles with her health, amongst an increasingly indifferent husband and volatile mother, she encounters unimaginable depths of loneliness and realizes that, even after she recovers, her life will never be the same.
As the collection progresses, it picks up the threads of other people’s lives that have also been abruptly upended—through death, divorce, illness and estrangements—leaving them shocked and disoriented as they try to navigate their lives in new directions. A Montreal cookbook author remembers her stepmother's exquisite taste in dinner parties, and her failed marriage—both of which she seemed to inherit. An abandoned wife catches her glamorous author friend stealing from an old, billionaire widower. A woman loses her daughter to suicide while her architect husband, in the grips of Alzheimer’s years later, sits on a subway platform day after day, drawing hearts for all the young women he sees.
Silcoff’s stories are sophisticated, detailed, and infused with humour, intelligence and touching emotional insights into the human condition.
In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo, by Claire Tacon
About the book: When Henry Robinson's first daughter, Starr, is born with Williams Syndrome, he swears to devote his life to making her happy. More than twenty years later, we find Henry working at Frankie's Funhouse, where he repairs the animatronic band that Starr loves, wrestling with her attempts at living outside the family home. His wife, Kathy, wishes he would allow Starr more independence, hoping that Henry will turn his attention a little more to their own relationship and to their other daughter, who is pregnant. As tensions mount Henry's young co-worker, Darren, reveals he needs to get to Chicago Comic Con to win back his ex-girlfriend, so Henry packs Starr (and her pet turtles) and Darren (still dressed as Frankie the mascot) into the van for a road trip no one was prepared for.
Told in multiple points of view, we hear from Henry, Darren and Starr as they all try to find their place in the world. In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo is a charming, tender and often funny story of a father struggling to let his daughters grow up and of a family struggling against hard odds, taking care of each other when the world lets them down.
Escape Plans, by Terri Vlassopoolos
About the book: My father drowned in the Aegean Sea, fifty nautical miles northeast of the port of Piraeus. When it happened, my mother and I were at home in Toronto. It was early evening in Greece, afternoon for us, and I was at school when she found out.
Niko Kiriakos, tentative heir to the ailing Calypso Shipping fleet, always suspected he was cursed. Following his sudden disappearance, his wife, Anna, and daughter, Zoe, are left adrift. Unmoored, they begin to test the boundaries of their lives, struggling with issues of loyalty, identity and what it means to be a family. Spanning years and tracing a route from Niagara Falls to Greece, Escape Plans is an unblinking look at the ties that bind us together and the things that pull us apart.
The Capacity for Infinite Happiness, by Alexis Von Konigslow
About the book: How do you piece together love?
Mathematician Emily Kogan needs to finish her thesis, and her secretive family may be just the inspiration she’s looking for. When she returns to her family’s vacation lodge she decides to conduct research into the influence of personal relationships, using her family tree as an original social network. Tracing the spiderwebs of these connections, she learns far more than she bargained for.
In the 1930s, Harpo Marx joins his brothers at the Kogan’s Jewish resort in Canada. Unhappy after the death of his parents and uncertain in life after the latest Marx Brothers’ movie flopped at the cinemas, Harpo is looking for something or someone to save. Captivated by the mysterious Ayala Kogan and her two daughters, he is drawn deeply into the lives of the Kogan family and their tragic past.
Effortlessly weaving together these two storylines, Alexis von Konigslow draws the reader into an astonishing tale of ill-fated love, extraordinary courage and a daring transatlantic escape.
My Real Children, by Jo Walton
About the book: It's 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. "Confused today," read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know-what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don't seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining torun again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.
Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War-those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?
Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history; each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. Jo Walton's My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan's lives...and of how every life means the entire world.
Dazzle Patterns, by Alison Watt
About the book: Beginning the day of the devastating Halifax Explosion of 1917, Dazzle Patterns is an unforgettable story about loss, the resilience of the human spirit, and the transformative power of art.
While Clare Holmes waits for her fiancé, Leo, to return from the war in France, she works as a flaw checker at the Halifax glassworks. It is there that she meets Fred Baker, a mysterious master glassmaker who was trained in his home country of Germany. After the disastrous explosion on December 6, 1917—which killed 2000, injured thousands more, and is said to have shattered every window in the city—Clare, Leo, and Fred's lives become irrevocably intertwined.
In the chaos and turmoil of the war and the aftermath of the explosion, Clare finds solace in drawing, but is further devastated when Leo is reported missing. Meanwhile, tensions in the community quickly rise: who was responsible for the explosion” Could there be German collaborators in their midst” When Fred is arrested, Clare is determined to find a way to prove her new friend's innocence.
Dazzle Patterns is a moving story about three people making their way through harrowing, impossible times. With extraordinary vision and clarity, Alison Watt's remarkable debut novel brings the past to life.
Worry, by Jessica Westhead
About the book: Ruth is the fiercely protective mother of almost-four-year-old Fern. Together they visit a remote family cottage belonging to Stef, the woman who has been Ruth’s best friend—and Ruth's husband’s best friend—for years. Stef is everything Ruth is not—confident, loud, carefree—and someone Ruth cannot seem to escape. While Fern runs wild with Stef’s older twins and dockside drinks flow freely among the adults, they’re joined by Stef’s neighbour Marvin, a man whose frantic pursuit of fun is only matched by his side comments about his absent wife. As day moves into night and darkness settles over the woods, the edges between these friends and a stranger sharpen until a lingering suspicion becomes an undeniable threat.
The Torontonians, by Phyllis Brett Young
About the book: The arrival, one sunny morning, of pale green wall-to-wall carpeting for the living room is the crowning jewel in Karen Whitney's long-anticipated transformation of her house into a beautiful home, renovated to the exacting standards of her own impeccable taste. The banal finality of this event triggers an introspective voyage through the events of her life and how she became who she is: wife of business executive Rick, citizen of the suburb of Rowanwood, mother to two accomplished daughters in university. Before Betty Friedan coined the term feminine mystique, The Torontonians told a classic feminist story of suburban ennui and existential self-discovery, tracing a detailed portrait of femininity in the 1950s through the eyes of its perceptive and thoughtful heroine. The book is also a unique contemporary meditation on community and social ties from a time when Canada's major cities were just beginning to spread out into suburban sprawl.
Five Roses, by Alice Zorn
About the book: A sister. A baby. A man who watches from the trees.
Fara and her husband buy a house with a disturbing history that reawakens memories of her own family tragedy. Maddy still lives in the house, once a hippie commune, where her daughter was kidnapped twenty-seven years ago. Rose grew up isolated with her mother in the backwoods north of Montreal. Now in the city, she questions the silence and deception that shaped her upbringing.
Fara, Maddy, and Rose meet in Montreal’s historic Pointe St-Charles, a rundown neighbourhood on the cusp of gentrification. Against a backdrop of abandonment, loss, and revitalization, the women must confront troubling secrets in order to rebuild their lives.Zorn deftly interweaves the rich yet fragile lives of three very different people into a story of strength and friendship.
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