Big Fiction

Fall book season is exciting with its televised ceremonies and fancy galas, but spring is just as interesting, with regional and specialized prizes highlighting fantastic authors and books from across the country. As you make your summer reading plans, make sure to add some of these great books to the mix.

*****

Season of Fury and Wonder, by Sharon Butala

Nominated for the 2020 Alberta Literary Awards

About the book: “There are things that it is impossible to learn when you are young, no matter how much you read and study.” The season of fury and wonder, in Sharon Butala’s world, is the old age of women. These stories present the lives of old women—women of experience, who’ve seen much of life, who’ve tasted of its sweetness and its bitter possibilities, and have developed opinions and come to conclusions about what it all amounts to. These are stories of today’s old women, who understand that they have been created by their pasts.

But there’s another layer to this standard-setting example of “cronelit.” Not content to rest on her considerable literary laurels, Sharon Butala continues to push the boundaries of her art. The stories in Season of Fury and Wonder are all reactions to other, classic, works of literature that she has encountered and admired. These stories are, in their various ways, inspired by and tributes to works by the likes of Raymond Carver, Willa Cather, James Joyce, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Conner, John Cheever, Alan Sillitoe, Ernest Hemmingway, Tim O’Brien, Edgar Allan Poe, and Anton Checkov.

*

This Has Nothing to Do With You, by Lauren Carter

Nominated for the 2020 Manitoba Book Awards

About the book: When Melony Barnett's mother commits a violent murder, Mel is left struggling with the loss of her parents and her future. For more than two years, she drifts around the continent, trying to carve out a life that has nothing to do with her past, before returning to her Northern Ontario home and adopting a rescue dog?a mastiff with a tragic history. As she struggles to help the dog heal and repair her relationship with her brother, Matt, she begins to uncover layers of secrets about her family “secrets that were the fuel for her mother's actions.

This Has Nothing to Do With You is a compulsively readable novel that follows a dynamic cast of characters, revealing the complexity of the bonds that are formed through trauma and grief?with siblings, lovers, friends, and dogs.

*

The Melting Queen, by Bruce Cinnamon

Nominated for the 2020 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize

About the book: Every year since 1904, when the ice breaks up on the North Saskatchewan River, Edmonton has crowned a Melting Queen—a woman who presides over the Melting Day spring carnival and who must keep the city's spirits up over the following winter. But this year, something has changed: a genderfluid ex-frat brother called River Runson is named as Melting Queen. As River's reign upends the city's century-old traditions, Edmonton tears itself in two, with progressive and reactionary factions fighting a war for Edmonton's soul. Ultimately, River must uncover the hidden history of Melting Day, forcing Edmonton to confront the dark underbelly of its traditions and leading the city into a new chapter in its history.

Balancing satire with compassion, Bruce Cinnamon's debut novel combines history and magic to weave a splendid future-looking tale.

*

Watermark, by Christy Ann Conlin

Nominated for the 2019 Danuta Gleed Award

About the book: In these evocative and startling stories, we meet people navigating the elemental forces of love, life, and death. An insomniac on Halifax’s moonlit streets. A runaway bride. A young woman accused of a brutal murder. A man who must live in exile if he is to live at all. A woman coming to terms with her eccentric childhood in a cult on the Bay of Fundy shore.

A master of North Atlantic Gothic, Christy Ann Conlin expertly navigates our conflicting self-perceptions, especially in moments of crisis. She illuminates the personality of land and ocean, charts the pull of the past on the present, and reveals the wildness inside each of us. These stories offer a gallery of both gritty and lyrical portraits, each unmasking the myth and mystery of the everyday.

*

Blindshot, by Denis Coupal

Nominated for the  2020 Arthur Ellis Awards Awards

About the book: When financier Paul Carignan is hit by a stray bullet and killed in Beaufort, Quebec, the town leaders seem reluctant to investigate. Running out of patience, his teenage sons, Jack and Noah, take justice into their own hands—and kidnap the locals they suspect are responsible. Things soon erupt and the boys find themselves besieged in their house with their captives. In the middle is their mother, Catherine, not sure which side to take. For Tom "Brooder" Doran, Beaufort's Deputy Chief of Police, the investigation has just gotten very complicated. One thing's for sure, this sleepy town is in for a fiery shakeup.

*

Making It Home, by Alison DeLory

Nominated for the 2020 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize

About the book: Tinker Gordon doesn’t want anything to change. He thinks that if he holds on tightly enough, his family, his tiny Cape Breton Island community, his very world will stay exactly the way it has always been. But explosions large and small—a world away, in the Middle East, in the land of opportunity in western Canada, and in his own home in Falkirk Cove—threaten to turn everything Tinker has ever known upside down.

Set variously in the heart of rural Cape Breton, on the war-torn streets of Aleppo and in a Turkish refugee camp, in the new wild west frontier of the Alberta oil patch, and in a tiny apartment in downtown Toronto, Tinker’s family, friends, and neighbours new and old must find a way to make it home.

In her adult fiction debut, Alison DeLory ponders a question as relevant in Atlantic Canada as anywhere in the world: where and how do we belong, and what does it take to make it home?

*

Dig, by Terry Doyle

Nominated for the 2019 Danuta Gleed Award

About the book: In twelve dialed-in and exceptionally honed short stories, Terry Doyle presents an enduring assortment of characters channelled through the chain reactions of misfortune and redemption. A construction worker’s future is bound to a feckless and suspicious workmate. A young woman’s burgeoning social activism is constrained by hardship and the desperation of selling puppies online. A wedding guest recognizes a panhandler attending the reception. And a man crafts a concealed weapon with which to carry out his nightly circuit of paltry retribution. Through keen-eyed observation, and with an impressive economy of statement, Doyle conveys these characters over a backdrop of private absurdities and confusions—countering the overbearance of a post-tragic age with grit, irony, and infinitesimal signs of hope.

*

All That Belongs, by Dora Dueck

Nominated for the 2020 Manitoba Book Awards

About the book: Catherine, an archivist, has spent decades committed to conserving the pasts of others, only to find her own resurfacing on the eve of her retirement. Carefully, she mines the failing memories of her aging mother to revive a mysterious Uncle and relive the tragic downfall of her brother. Catherine remembers, and in the process, discovers darker family secrets, long silenced, and their devastating aftermath. Spanning decades between rural Alberta and Winnipeg, All That Belongs is an elegant examination of our own ephemeral histories, the consequences of religious fanaticism, and the startling familial ties—and shame—that bind us.

*

Even That Wildest Hope, by Seyward Goodhand

Nominated for the 2020 Manitoba Book Awards

About the book: Even That Wildest Hope bursts with vibrant, otherworldly characters—wax girls and gods-among-men, artists on opposite sides of a war, aimless plutocrats and anarchist urchins—who are sometimes wondrous, often grotesque, and always driven by passions and yearnings common to us all. Each story is an untamed territory unto itself: where characters are both victims and predators, the settings are antique and futuristic, and where our intimacies—with friends, lovers, enemies, and even our food—reveal a deeply human desire for beauty and abjection. Stylistic and primordial, Even That Wildest Hope is a chaotic and always satisfying fabulist journey in the baroque tradition of Angela Carter, Carmen Maria Machado, and Ted Chiang.

*

Molly of the Mall, by Heidi L.M. Jacobs

Nominated for the 2020 Leacock Medal

About the book: Aspiring novelist Molly MacGregor’s life is strikingly different from a literary heroine's. Named for one of literature’s least romantic protagonists, Moll Flanders, Molly lives in Edmonton, a city she finds irredeemably unromantic, where she writes university term papers instead of novels, and sells shoes in the Largest Mall on Earth. There she seeks the other half of her young life's own matched pair. Delightfully whimsical, Heidi L.M. Jacobs’s Molly of the Mall explores its namesake's love for the written word, love for the wrong men (and the right one), and her complicated love for her city.

*

Adam's Tree, by Gloria Mehlmann

Nominated for the 2020 Saskatchewan Book Awards

About the book: Adam's Tree is a fictional account of life on the Cowesses First Nation in Saskatchewan during the 1940's and 50's.This period in history finds forces like regulatory policy, World War II, systemic racism, and the long reach of the depression defining reserve life and rural relationships. These short stories are told from the perspective of various characters on the reserve: an Indigenous teenage girl named Sophie, men who return to Cowesses after the war, struggling with untreated and unacknowledged PTSD, settlers like the local school teacher and the "Indian agent." This book contributes to the dialogue on reconciliation, freeing Indigenous voices during a period of time that is rarely written about. It encourages readers to examine the sources and meaning of today's inheritance of complex relations.

*

Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian), by Hazel Jane Plante

Nominated for the 2019/2020 BC and Yukon Book Prizes

About the book: The playful and poignant novel Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) sifts through a queer trans woman's unrequited love for her straight trans friend who died. A queer love letter steeped in desire, grief, and delight, the story is interspersed with encyclopedia entries about a fictional TV show set on an isolated island.

The experimental form functions at once as a manual for how pop culture can help soothe and mend us and as an exploration of oft-overlooked sources of pleasure, including karaoke, birding, and butt toys. Ultimately, Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) reveals with glorious detail and emotional nuance the woman the narrator loved, why she loved her, and the depths of what she has lost.

*

Frying Plantain, by Zalika Reid-Benta

Nominated for the 2020 Trillium Book Awards, 2020 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, 2019 Danuta Gleed Award

About the book: Kara Davis is a girl caught in the middle—of her North American identity and her desire to be a “true” Jamaican, of her mother and grandmother’s rages and life lessons, of having to avoid being thought of as too “faas” or too “quiet” or too “bold” or too “soft.” Set in a neighbourhood known as “Little Jamaica,” Kara moves from girlhood to the threshold of adulthood, from elementary school to high school graduation, in these twelve interconnected stories. We see her on a visit to Jamaica, startled by the sight of a severed pig’s head in her great-aunt’s freezer; in junior high, the victim of a devastating prank by her closest friends; and as a teenager in and out of her grandmother’s house, trying to cope with the ongoing battles between her unyielding grandparents.
shows how, in one charged moment, friendship and love can turn to enmity and hate, well-meaning protection can become control, and teasing play can turn to something much darker.

*

I Saw Three Ships: West End Stories, by Bill Richardson

Longlisted for the 2020 Leacock Medal, 2019/2020 BC and Yukon Book Prizes Finalists

About the book: “By June, Philip’s view of English Bay, what’s left of it, will be utterly gone. It was always going to happen. For years now, it’s been getting harder and harder to see what’s out there. For years now, it’s been getting harder and harder to know what to do.”

Eight linked stories, all set around Christmastime in Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood, explore the seasonal tug-of-war between expectation and disappointment. These tales give shelter to characters from various walks of life whose experience of transcendence leaves them more alienated than consoled.

I Saw Three Ships captures a West End community vanishing under pressure from development and skyrocketing real-estate prices. As arch as they are elegiac, as funny as they are melancholy, these stories honour a cherished period in the history of the West End. Sometimes twisted, sometimes tender, I Saw Three Ships will speak to all who have ever been stuck spinning their wheels at the corner of Heathen and Holy.

*

Crow, by Amy Spurway

Nominated for the 2020 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, 2020 Leacock Medal

About the book: When Stacey Fortune is diagnosed with three highly unpredictable—and inoperable—brain tumours, she abandons the crumbling glamour of her life in Toronto for her mother Effie's scruffy trailer in rural Cape Breton. Back home, she's known as Crow, and everybody suspects that her family is cursed.

With her future all but sealed, Crow decides to go down in a blaze of unforgettable glory by writing a memoir that will raise eyebrows and drop jaws. She'll dig up "the dirt" on her family tree, including the supposed curse, and uncover the truth about her mysterious father, who disappeared a month before she was born.

But first, Crow must contend with an eclectic assortment of characters, including her gossipy Aunt Peggy, hedonistic party-pal Char, homebound best friend Allie, and high-school flame Willy. She'll also have to figure out how to live with her mother and how to muddle through the unsettling visual disturbances that are becoming more and more vivid each day.

Witty, energetic, and crackling with sharp Cape Breton humour, Crow is a story of big twists, big personalities, big drama, and even bigger heart.

*

Rue des Rosiers, by Rhea Tregebov

Nominated for the 2019/2020 BC and Yukon Book Prizes Finalists

About the book: Sarah is the youngest of the three Levine sisters. At twenty-five, she is rudderless, caught in a paralysis which keeps her from seizing her own life. 

When Sarah is fired from her Toronto job, a chance stay in Paris opens her up to new direction and purpose.

But when she reads the writing on the wall above her local Métro subway station, “death to the Jews”, shadows from childhood rise again. And as her path crosses that of Laila, a young woman living in an exile remote from the luxuries of 1980s Paris, Sarah stumbles towards to an act of terrorism that may realize her childhood fears. 

In this new novel by the author of The Knife Sharpener’s Bell, writing that is both sensual and taut creates a tightly woven, compelling narrative.

*

Moccasin Square Gardens, by Richard Van Camp

Nominated for the 2020 Alberta Literary Awards

About the book: The characters of Moccasin Square Gardens inhabit Denendeh, the land of the people north of the sixtieth parallel. These stories are filled with in-laws, outlaws and common-laws. Get ready for illegal wrestling moves (“The Camel Clutch”), pinky promises, a doctored casino, extraterrestrials or “Sky People,” love, lust and prayers for peace.

While this is Van Camp’s most hilarious short story collection, it’s also haunted by the lurking presence of the Wheetago, human-devouring monsters of legend that have returned due to global warming and the greed of humanity. The stories in Moccasin Square Gardens show that medicine power always comes with a price.

To counteract this darkness, Van Camp weaves a funny and loving portrayal of the Tilcho Dene and other communities of the North, drawing from oral history techniques to perfectly capture the character and texture of everyday small-town life. “Moccasin Square Gardens” is the nickname of a dance hall in the town of Fort Smith that serves as a meeting place for a small but diverse community. In the same way, the collection functions as a meeting place for an assortment of characters, from shamans and time-travelling goddess warriors to pop-culture-obsessed pencil pushers, to con artists, archivists and men who just need to grow up, all seeking some form of connection.

*

The Death of Annie the Water Witcher by Lightning, by Audrey J. Whitson

Nominated for the 2020 Alberta Literary Awards

About the book: Three years into the second millennium, Majestic, Alberta is a farm town dealing with depressed crop prices, international borders closing to Canadian beef, and a severe drought. Older farmers worry about their way of life changing while young people concoct ways to escape: drugs, partying, moving away. Even the church is on the brink of closing.

When local woman Annie Gallagher is struck by lightning while divining water for a well, stories of the town's past, including that of Annie and the grandmother who taught her water witching, slowly pour forth as everyone gathers for her funeral.

Told through the varied voices of the townspeople and Annie herself, The Death of Annie the Water Witcher by Lightning reveals Majestic to be a complex character in its own right, both haunted and haunting. Here, Audrey J. Whitson has written a novel of hard choices and magical necessity.

May 28, 2020
Books mentioned in this post
Molly of the Mall

Molly of the Mall

Literary Lass & Purveyor of Fine Footwear
edition:eBook
tagged : literary, humorous
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edition:
also available: Hardcover Book Book
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Moccasin Square Gardens

Moccasin Square Gardens

Short Stories
edition:Paperback
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