What a year for the books was 2022, and we're so grateful for the readers and the writers who continue to make the celebration of Canadian books such a pleasure.
We're capping off the year with 22 of our favourite fiction and nonfiction picks from the year that was, and even better? Every single title is up for giveaway.
Wonder World, by K.R. Byggdin
About the book: “What this town has done, it’s like pickling people. Taking us when we’re young and fresh and vulnerable, sticking us in a jar and filling us with all these rules they hope will preserve us from the rotting decay of worldliness. But you can’t brine someone in that much guilt and shame their whole lives and expect them not to change. Shrivel into mere husks of their former selves, sour as vinegar.”
Twenty-seven-year-old Isaac Funk is broke, drifting, and questioning his lonely existence on the East Coast. Having left his conservative hometown of Newfield, Manitoba full of piss and vinegar, Isaacs dreams of studying music and embracing queer culture in Halifax have gradually fizzled out. When his grandfather dies and leaves him a substantial inheritance, Isaac is pulled back to the Prairies for the first time in ten years. Finding his father Abe just as enigmatic and unreachable as always and his extended family more fragmented than ever, Isaac begins to wonder if there will ever be a place for him in Newfield. Is the prodigal son home for good, or is it time to cut and run once more?
- Check out Robert J. Wiersema's Shelf Talkers column with other great recommendations from indie booksellers
Carrying It Forward: Essays from Kistahpinanihk, by John Brady McDonald
About the book: John Brady McDonald has lived in Kistahpinanihk, an area that includes Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, for nearly all his life. A member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and a descendent of Metis leader Jim Brady, John Brady has worked to move carefully between these two nations—to learn their stories, honour their traditions and reclaim their languages, all of which were nearly lost to him. In this wide-ranging collection the author looks at everything from the city of Prince Albert to his experience of residential school, to northern firefighting, to his time in the United Kingdom, where he “discovered” and “claimed” the island for the First People of the Americas. These are essays filled with history, much careful observation and some hard-learned lessons about racism, about recovery, about the ongoing tragedies facing Indigenous peoples. With honesty, a poet’s turn of phrase and a bit of sly humour, John Brady pulls us deep into the life he has lived in Kistahpinanihk and asks us to consider what life could be like in a New North Territory.
- Check out John Brady McDonald's recommended reading list, "Much Like Family: The Indigenous Literary Community"
Cambium Blue, by Maureen Brownlee
About the book: Set in the British Columbia Interior, the novel Cambium Blue is an homage to resource towns, independent women and local newspapers.
In 1994, at the outset of the bark beetle epidemic that will decimate millions of acres of pine forest in western North America, a fiercely independent lumber town faces a bleak future when its only sawmill is shuttered. Encouraged by a provincial government intent on transitioning the region from timber to tourism, the town council embraces a resort developer as their last, best hope. A failure to anticipate the human cost of that choice ignites a struggle for the very soul of the community.
Cambium Blue’s narrative alternates between three viewpoints. Stevie Jeffers is a timid, twenty-four year-old single mom who stakes her future on the town after a traumatic break-up. Nash Malone is a reclusive Spanish Civil War veteran who supplements his pension with salvage from the local dump—an occupation that puts him on a collision course with the town’s plan to beautify itself. At fifty-four years old, cash-strapped and short-staffed Maggie Evans is treading water while waiting to sell her dead husband’s newspaper, the barely solvent Chronicle. As the characters’ lives intertwine and the conflict heats up, they will each be challenged to traverse the ambiguous divide between substance and hype, past and future, hope and despair.
Rich with unforgettable characters and set in the Interior hinterland of British Columbia, Cambium Blue is a masterful and compassionate illumination of the human politics of a small town, and the intersection of individual lives with political agendas and environmental catastrophes.
Ruby Red Skies, by Taslim Burkowicz
About the book: Ruby used to be a fiery, sexy, musical genius. But when she got pregnant as a teenager in the 90s, her life took a turn into banality. Now a middle-aged Indo-Canadian woman, she feels unseen and unheard by her white husband and struggles to communicate with her mixed-race daughter. When she discovers her husband cheating, she embarks on a quest to unearth exciting secrets from her past. To find what she needs, she drives straight into B.C.’s raging wildfires, accompanied only by the fantastical stories her mother used to tell about their ancient Mughal ancestry—a dancer named Rubina who lived in the concubine quarters of the great Agra Fort. This book is at once historical fiction and political romance, deftly navigating themes of mixed-race relationships, climate change, motherhood, body shame, death and the passage of time.
- Check out Taslim Burkowicz's recommended reading list "The Flawed Ones: My Favourite Kind of Character"
Stealing John Hancock, by H. & A. Christensen
About the book: John "JP" Hancock's day just got a whole lot worse. After a nasty breakup and being scammed into an acting job that doesn't exist, JP suddenly finds himself the unwitting victim of an identity theft that has police detective Nya Grey hot on his heels for multimillion-dollar real estate fraud he didn't commit.
With the police closing in, JP finds an unlikely ally in the Vindicator, a secretive and brilliant hacker who agrees to help clear his name by whatever means necessary. But there's more to the story than meets the eye, and they soon find themselves at the centre of a high-stakes international pursuit with a master con artist. Failure to outwit him could land them in prison or far worse, but if they succeed, the payoff includes the ultimate revenge.
About the book: Roughly 68 million North American women currently grapple with the challenges of midlife, faced with a culture that tells them their “best-before date” has long passed. In Navigating the Messy Middle, Ann Douglas pushes back against this toxic narrative, providing a fierce and unapologetic book for and about midlife women.
In this deeply validating and encouraging book, Douglas interviews well over one hundred women of different backgrounds and identities, sharing their diverse conversations about the complex and intertwined issues that women must grapple with at midlife: from family responsibilities to career pivots, health concerns to building community. Readers will find a book that offers practical, evidence-based strategies for thriving at midlife, coupled with compelling first-person stories.
Offering purpose and meaning in a life stage that can otherwise feel out of control, Douglas pushes back against the message that women at midlife are no longer relevant and needed, highlighting the far-reaching economic, political and social impacts of these messages and providing a refreshing counter-narrative that maps out a path forward for women at midlife.
Both a midlife love letter and a lament, Navigating the Messy Middle both celebrates the beauty and rages at the many injustices of this life stage and provides readers with the tools to chart their own course.
The Wards, by Terry Doyle
About the book: The Wards are a working-class Newfoundland family on the cusp of upheaval. The children are becoming adults, the adults are growing old, and the new dog was probably stolen. When a sudden illness forces the Wards together, can they finally learn to be close-knit?
This unsettling, at times hilarious novel explores the instability of nuclear families and the depths of dysfunction.
Family is family—you don’t get to choose.
So what, exactly, do you get to choose?
Night in the World, by Sharon English
About the book: A tender ensemble novel about coming home to oneself and one's family through the beauty and soulfulness of Earth, even in an age of unravelling.
Brothers Justin and Oliver have never been close. Justin owns an iconic Toronto restaurant and lives with his wife and daughter in Baby Point. Oliver, a former environmental reporter, does admin for a local gym and rents an attic apartment. Yet both men know their worlds stand on the brink. With their mother's abrupt death, each sets out to set things right: Oliver to reclaim a beloved home, Justin to save one that's falling apart.
Intersecting Justin's and Oliver's journeys is Gabe: a budding biologist enchanted by the underappreciated beauty of moths, and conflicted by the demands of scientific scrutiny. As the brothers' pursuits take them from Toronto Island to the Humber River, from drugs and transgressive art to meetings with imperiled activists, Gabe stakes everything on a glimpse of a new possibility.
Sharon English has penned a tender and powerful novel about the claims places make on our hearts, and how journeys into darkness are sometimes necessary to see through catastrophe. Night in the World explores the need to end our separations from each other and from nature—coming home, at last, to a beleaguered yet still beautiful world.
Cooking Tips for Desperate Fishwives: An Island Memoir, by Margot Fedoruk
About the book: Part love story, part survival story, part meditation on family dysfunction, this offbeat memoir chronicles the unpredictable life of a young wife and mother on Gabriola Island.
In 1989, twenty-three-year-old Margot Fedoruk left Winnipeg and her volatile Slavic-Jewish family for the wilds of BC to work as a tree planter and to contemplate her mother’s untimely death from cancer. There, she met Rick Corless, a burly, red-headed sea urchin diver, and soon found herself pregnant and cooking vegetarian meals for meat-eating divers on Rick’s boat, The Buckaroo, as they travelled along the rugged northern BC coastline.
Eventually, the unlikely couple settled on Gabriola Island to raise two girls, dig for clams, keep chickens, clean houses, and make soap to sell at the local market. As she washed windows with stunning ocean views, Margot also wiped away lonely tears, determined not to repeat the same mistakes as she had witnessed during her parents’ marriage made in hell. Through dark humour, vivid descriptions, and quirky characters, Margot’s reflections on marriage, motherhood, isolation, food, and family paint an unforgettable portrait of a modern-day fishwife left behind to keep the home fires burning. True to its title, Cooking Tips for Desperate Fishwives is a memoir infused with recipes, from the hearty Eastern European fare of Margot’s childhood to more adventurous coastal BC cuisine.
In the City of Pigs, by André Forget
About the book: A failed musician obsessed with avant-garde art enters a shadowy world where bohemian excess meets the avaricious interests of a real estate cabal.
Alexander Otkazov is finished with Montreal. Having wasted his youth on the love of art, he’s ready for a life of anonymous condo towers and profitable boredom. But when he moves to Toronto, he is forced into a monkish existence by the unforgiving pressures of the city—until he stumbles across a story about an ambitious experimental music collective that could be his ticket to a better job and a better life.
Desperate to prove himself as a journalist, Alexander chases answers that take him from Forest Hill mansions to the bottom of Halifax Harbour, moving ever deeper into a shadowy world of amorphous real estate deals, creative megalomania, and finance capitalism, where avant-garde art is simply another mask for big money. In order to unravel the threads tying everything he loves to everything he hates, he will have to confront his own most sordid desires and the lengths he is willing to go to achieve his dreams of an easy life.
Some Hellish, by Nicholas Herring
About the book: Herring is a hapless lobster fisher lost in an unexceptional life, bored of thinking the same old thoughts. One December day, following a hunch, he cuts a hole in the living room floor and installs a hoist, altering the course of everything in his life. His wife Euna leaves with their children. He buries the family dog in a frozen grave on Christmas Eve. He and his friend Gerry crash his truck into a field, only to be rescued by a passing group of Tibetan monks.
During the spring lobster season, Herring and Gerry find themselves caught in a storm front. Herring falls overboard miles from the harbour, is lost at sea for days, and assumed to be drowned. And then, he is found, miraculously, alive. Having come so near to death, he is forced to confront the things he fears the most: love, friendship, belief, and himself.
Some Hellish is a story about anguish and salvation, the quiet grace and patience of transformation, the powers of addiction and fear, the plausibility of forgiveness, and the immense capacity of friendship and of love.
Confessions with Keith, by Pauline Holdstock
About the book: An outrageously comic novel documents a middle-aged writer and mother's grappling with mid-life crisis—her husband's and her own.
Preoccupied with her fledgling literary career, intent on the all-consuming consolations of philosophy, and scrambling to meet the demands of her four children, the acutely myopic and chronically inattentive Vita Glass doesn’t notice that her house and her marriage are competing to see which can fall apart fastest. She can barely find time for her writing career, and just when her newfound success in vegetable erotica is beginning to take off. Our heroine’s only tried and trusted escape is the blissful detachment of Keith's hairdressing salon, but when her husband leaves the country, unannounced, she decides to do likewise—in the opposite direction, and with their children. Drawn from the pages of Vita’s journal, this outrageously comic novel documents Vita's passage through a mid-life crisis and explores all the ways we deceive each other and ourselves.
Junie, by Chelene Knight
About the book: A riveting exploration of the complexity within mother-daughter relationships and the dynamic vitality of Vancouver's former Hogan's Alley neighbourhood.
1930s, Hogan's Alley—a thriving Black and immigrant community located in Vancouver's East End. Junie is a creative, observant child who moves to the alley with her mother, Maddie: a jazz singer with a growing alcohol dependency. Junie quickly makes meaningful relationships with two mentors and a girl her own age, Estelle, whose resilient and entrepreneurial mother is grappling with white scrutiny and the fact that she never really wanted a child.
As Junie finds adulthood, exploring her artistic talents and burgeoning sexuality, her mother sinks further into the bottle while the thriving neighbourhood—once gushing with potential—begins to change. As her world opens, Junie intuits the opposite for the community she loves.
Told through the fascinating lens of a bright woman in an oft-disquieting world, this book is intimate and urgent—not just an unflinching look at the destruction of a vibrant community, but a celebration of the Black lives within.
Holden After and Before, by Tara McGuire
About the book: Holden After and Before is a moving meditation on grief in the same vein as Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk: a stunning book that traces Tara McGuire's excavation and documentation of the life path of her son Holden, a graffiti artist who died of an accidental opioid overdose at the age of twenty-one. Beginning with Holden's death and leaping through time and space, McGuire employs fact, investigation, memory, fantasy, and even fabrication in her search for understanding not only of her son's tragic death, but also of his beautiful life. She navigates and writes across the many blank spaces to form a story of discovery and humanity, examining themes of grief, pain, mental illness, trauma, creative expression, identity, and deep, unending love inside just one of the thousands of deaths that have occurred as a result of the opioid crisis.
With poignant honesty and a heart laid bare, Holden After and Before is a beautiful and moving elegy to a son lost to overdose.
Send Me Into the Woods Alone, by Erin Pepler
About the book: Dispatches from modern motherhood by a reluctant suburbanite.
Send Me Into The Woods Alone is an honest, heartfelt, and often hilarious collection of essays on the joys, struggles, and complexities of motherhood.
These essays touch on the major milestones of raising children, from giving birth (and having approximately a million hands in your vagina) and taking your beautiful newborn home (and feeling like you’ve stolen your baby from the hospital), to lying to kids about the Tooth Fairy and mastering the subtle art of beating children at board games. Plus the pitfalls of online culture and the #winemom phenomenon, and the unattainable expectations placed on mothers today.
Written from the perspective of an always tired, often anxious, and reluctant suburbanite who is doing her damn best, these essays articulate one woman’s experience in order to help mothers of all kinds process the wildly variable, deeply different ways in which being a mom changes our lives.
- Check out an excerpt from "The Slow and Tragic Death of Santa Claus" (coming soon!)
Finding Edward, by Sheila Murray
About the book: Cyril Rowntree migrates to Toronto from Jamaica in 2012. Managing a precarious balance of work and university he begins to navigate his way through the implications of being racialized in his challenging new land.
A chance encounter with a panhandler named Patricia leads Cyril to a suitcase full of photographs and letters dating back to the early 1920s. Cyril is drawn into the letters and their story of a white mother’s struggle with the need to give up her mixed race baby, Edward. Abandoned by his own white father as a small child, Cyril’s keen intuition triggers a strong connection and he begins to look for the rest of Edward’s story.
As he searches, Cyril unearths fragments of Edward’s itinerant life as he crisscrossed the country. Along the way, he discovers hidden pieces of Canada’s Black history and gains the confidence to take on his new world.
Fifty-Four Pigs: A Dr. Bannerman Vet Mystery, by Philipp Schott
About the book: For readers of The Thursday Murder Club comes a lighthearted mystery with an incredible sense of place.
A swine barn explodes near a lakeside town, putting veterinarian Dr. Peter Bannerman on a collision course with murder and a startling conspiracy.
Peter is an odd duck, obsessed with logic and measurable facts, an obsession he puts to good use in his veterinary practice. When a murder is connected to the swine barn explosion and his friend Tom becomes the prime suspect, Peter feels compelled to put his reasoning skills, and his dog Pippin’s remarkable nose, to use to help clear him.
The situation darkens with a second murder and a series of break-ins, including at Peter’s house and clinic, but Peter has a hard time knowing when he is out of his depth, despite warnings from his brother-in-law Kevin, an RCMP officer.
Ultimately Peter finds himself out in the middle of a frozen lake during a blizzard, fighting for his life and confronting a horrifying realization he had been blind to all along.
- Check out Robert J. Wiersema's "Shelf Talkers" column with other great recommendations from indie booksellers
Pacifique, by Sarah L. Taggart
About the book: Is love real if the beloved isn’t? Girl, Interrupted meets Rebecca in this taut tale of love and madness.
When Tia meets Pacifique, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime love. They spend five wild days and nights together, and then Tia wakes up in an ambulance with a collarbone broken in a bike accident — and no trace of Pacifique. Unable to convince anyone that Pacifique exists, Tia winds up in a psychiatric ward, forced to face the possibility that this perfect lover may be a figment of her imagination. While there, Tia meets Andrew, a contemplative man with schizophrenia, who falls in love with Tia. He, too, tells her to forget Pacifique. Who to believe? The medical establishment and her fellow patients? Or her frail human memory? And if Pacifique truly is a figment, is life in the “real world” with Andrew enough?
The Elephant on Karluv Bridge, by Thomas Trofimuk
About the book: Set in Prague and narrated by the 600-year-old Charles Bridge, this novel begins with an lephant named Sál escaping the Prague Zoo. As the elephant moves through the beautiful Czech city, the lives of the men and women she meets are altered by the encounter. Each character is at a crossroads, and desperately seeking the wisdom they need to wrestle with profound questions—how to live, how to love, who to love, how to heal. And the elephant herself is haunted, as memories of her long-ago capture in Africa resurface.
Sál carries the narrative from one point of view to another: Vasha, a writer and night watchman at the zoo, and his wife Marta, a psychotherapist, confront the question of whether to have a child; Šárka, Marta’s patient and a dancer at the end of her career, is visited by a charming and often abrasive manifestation of the long-dead ballerina Anna Pavlova; Joseph, a clown and bouffon, performs on the Karlův Bridge itself, and he is about to be struck down (literally and figuratively) by a new love… Through it all, Sál steals the show, wandering the streets in search of water and food, bearing her own share of sadness and painful memories as she struggles to find her way out of her bewildering predicament. Though she, like the humans she encounters, is free now to make her own choices, she is also displaced and lost. Thomas Trofimuk’s novel masterfully convinces us to accept all the wonders contained in it: that a bridge can tell a story, that art is integral to our survival, that an elephant can scatter sudden flashes of insight in her wake, that there is no separation between the grief of elephants and the grief of humans.
Ezra’s Ghosts, by Darcy Tamayose
About the book: Award-winning author Darcy Tamayose returns with Ezra's Ghosts, a collection of fantastical stories linked by a complex mingling of language and culture, as well as a deep understanding of grief and what it makes of us. Within these pages a scholar writes home from the Ryukyu islands, not knowing that his hometown will soon face a deadly calamity of its own. Another seeker of truth is trapped in Ezra after her violent death, and must watch how her family—and her killer—alter in her absence. The oldest man in town, an immigrant who came to Canada to escape imperial hardships, sprouts wings, and a wounded journalist bears witness to his transformation. Finally, past and present collide as a researcher reflects on the recent skinwars that have completely altered the world's topography. Binding the stories together is an intersection of arrival and departure--in a quiet prairie town called Ezra.
- Check out Darcy Tamayose's recommended reading list "Southern Alberta Prairie Perspectives: Theory and Practice"
Her First Palestinian, by Saeed Teebi
About the book: Elegant, surprising stories about Palestinian immigrants in Canada navigating their identities in circumstances that push them to the emotional brink.
Saeed Teebi’s intense, engrossing stories plunge into the lives of characters grappling with their experiences as Palestinian immigrants to Canada. A doctor teaches his girlfriend about his country, only for her to fall into a consuming obsession with the Middle East conflict. A math professor risks his family’s destruction by slandering the king of a despotic, oil-rich country. A university student invents an imaginary girlfriend to fit in with his callous, womanizing roommates. A lawyer takes on the impossible mission of becoming a body smuggler. A lonely widower travels to Russia in search of a movie starlet he met in his youth in historical Jaffa. A refugee who escaped violent circumstances rebels against the kindness of his sponsor. These taut and compelling stories engage the immigrant experience and reflect the Palestinian diaspora with grace and insight.
Low Road Forever, by Tara Thorne
About the book: A book of snarky, feminist essays covering #MeToo, pop culture, and LGBTQ+ topics, from longtime arts-and-culture columnist, for fans of Lindy West, Anne T. Donahue, and Sara Irby.
A self-proclaimed "gay feminist harpy since before it was cool," Tara Thorne is situated somewhere between the sharp-eyed urban commentary of Nora Ephron and ribald cultural analysis of Lindy West. In her debut book of essays, the Halifax-based filmmaker, arts critic, and recovering journalist gives readers her unvarnished take on the films and music that made her a feminist, how the #MeToo reckoning led her to write a misandrist vigilante film, what it's like being the only woman in a band, and the snarky tweet that made her lose her position as CBC Radio's arts and culture columnist. Alongside are musings on coming out later in life, remaining resolutely child-free, and why she's decided to step back from being professional to the point of erasure: after two decades, it's time to take the low road.
With the cranky forthrightness of Fran Lebowitz in Pretend It's a City, Thorne's voice is both self-assured and deeply self-effacing as she exposes the light haze of misogyny that hangs over us all to find what's funny, what's true, and what needs to be said.
- Check out Tara Thorne's "Low Road Forever Book List"
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