There's something for every kind of leader in this round-up of acclaimed novels and short story collections that deserve to be on your radar.
"An exploration of power, responsibility, and heartbreak. Gripping."
Some There Are Fearless, by Becca Babcock
About the book: A compelling contemporary novel set in Canada and Ukraine that follows a nuclear engineer obsessed with preventing disaster, from the author of One Who Has Been Here Before.
Jessica Manchaky's life has been shaped by the threat of nuclear disaster. She's a child when she hears news of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, and the disappearance of Ukrainian relatives, growing up on a northern Alberta military base during the Cold War. From that moment on, all she wants is to keep danger at bay.
But living in a household with a domineering and volatile mother and a rebellious older brother in isolated Cold Lake, Alberta, Jessica never feels fully safe. When she comes of age, she leaves her suffocating small town for Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she meets her future husband and eventually becomes a nuclear engineer in charge of risk assessment and management at nuclear power plants. But even as she shields the world from nuclear disaster, she is constantly facing personal tragedies—like a strained marriage, a misogynistic workplace, and severe postpartum anxiety—that she never quite manages to predict. When her young daughter is afflicted with a mysterious and potentially deadly illness, Jessica must learn to accept that not all risk can be managed.
"A purely original debut that combines compassion and dazzling effects..."
This is the House that Luke Built, by Violet Browne
About the book: Muscle sinew bone.
Luke Tremblett is one of five fishermen lost at sea off the coast of Newfoundland. Rose is left to pick up the pieces and learn to live with his sudden absence. And then there are three children, including two-month-old Emily, struggling to face an unbearable loss that has engulfed them.
This sharp, hard-edged novel begins two years after Luke’s disappearance, at the moment that Rose takes her first step through the wall of the house Luke was building when he died. Her body vibrating, she enters a space where Luke waits for her.
Part novel, part fable, part essay on grief, with interlocking scenes that move between past and present and visuals that punctuate the narrative like signposts, This Is the House That Luke Built deftly explores existential questions about what it means to be alive.
A strikingly original debut that combines compassion and bravura to dazzling effect, this new novel by Violet Browne heralds the arrival of a significant new voice.
"A transcendentally, astonishingly funny book about family, grief, and love..."
Coq, by Ali Bryan
About the book: From Leacock finalist Ali Bryan, a witty and immensely fun dramedy about a family's memorial trip to the City of Love, where chaos ensues at every turn.
It's been ten years since Claudia's mother died after a tragic collision with a banana boat. Her kids are now teenagers, her brother's wife has left him, and her ex has had a spiritual awakening that has him hinting at reconciliation—all things she can handle.
But when her septuagenarian father decides to remarry after a brief courtship with a woman who is decidedly different than their mother, the entire family is thrown off course, and plans a long overdue memorial trip to the only place their mother ever dreamed of going: Paris. However, minutes after take-off, the trip takes an unpredictable turn and sets off a chain of events that threatens to derail the closure the family desperately seeks.
Chance meetings, poolside confessions, run-ins with mimes, climate protests, and a man with a death wish force Claudia to reconsider everything she thought she knew about love, both the familial and the romantic, the tragic and the sublime. How well do we really know those closest to us? And how well do we really know ourselves?
In this follow-up to her award-winning novel Roost, Ali Bryan explores thorny family dynamics with her trademark offbeat humour and insight. Coq is a darkly comedic contemporary family drama that explores grief, identity, and second chances in the one-and-only City of Love.
"Elegies are not supposed to be joyous, but this one is..."
Leaving Wisdom, by Sharon Butala
About the book: Sharon Butala's new novel begins with the wrong kind of bang when retiring social worker Judith falls on the ice on the way to her retirement party. The debilitating concussion that follows seems to shake loose a confusing whirl of memories.
Judith is a mother of four, and her relationships with her daughters are complicated. They all seem to have men trouble, except for the wild daughter who seems to have settled down, inexplicably to Judith, in Jerusalem. With her ears still ringing and her strength compromised by a shaky recovery, Judith leaves Calgary and, to everyone's bewilderment, moves back to the town near the family farm. In Wisdom, Saskatchewan, she confronts many unanswered questions: Why was her father, a World War Two vet, so troubled” What are her brother and sister hiding from her” As she pursues answers to unsolved mysteries in her own life, more complicated and wider ranging questions arise.
Living in a small town is a shock after the anonymity of a big city. Judith finds herself exposed to watchful neighbours, and she is watchful in turn, seeing things that are mystifying at first?and then alarming. Small town bigotry and what looks like a serious crime unfolding in the house next door make her return even more difficult?what is she doing here” Does she have enough wisdom to unravel her past” Does she have a future in a place where she is not exactly welcome?
This thought-provoking and very readable tale shows not only the suffering that comes from family secrets, but also unfolds one woman's late life awakening to the complex shadows cast by World War Two and the Holocaust.
"...a magnetic and clear-eyed examination of the times in our lives when we can say we’ve truly lived."
Places Like These, by Lauren Carter
About the book: A widow visits a spiritualist community to attempt to contact her late husband. A grieving teenager confronts the unfairness of his small-town world and the oncoming ecological disaster. A sexual assault survivor navigates her boyfriend's tricky family and her own confusing desires. A mother examines unresolved guilt while seeking her missing daughter in a city slum. A lover exploits his girlfriend's secrets for his own purposes. Whether in Ecuador or San Francisco, rural Ontario or northern Manitoba, the landscape in each of Carter's poignant short stories reflects each character's journey.
Psychologically complex and astute, Places Like These plumbs the vast range of human reactions to those things which make us human—love, grief, friendship, betrayal, and the intertwined yet contrasting longing for connection and independence.
"Movingly explores how people change, and how they don’t; how they heal, and how they can’t ... or maybe still can."
Dreaming Home, by Lucian Childs
About the book: A queer coming-of-age—and coming-to-terms—follows the aftereffects of betrayal and poignantly explores the ways we search for home.
When a sister’s casual act of betrayal awakens their father’s demons—ones spawned by his time in Vietnamese POW camps—the effects of the ensuing violence against her brother ripple out over the course of forty years, from Lubbock, to San Francisco, to Fort Lauderdale. Swept up in this arc, the members of this family and their loved ones tell their tales. A queer coming-of-age, and coming-to-terms, and a poignant exploration of all the ways we search for home, Dreaming Home is the unforgettable story of the fragmenting of an American family.
"A scintillating debut full of nuanced and achingly human characters.”
And the Walls Came Down, by Denise Da Costa
About the book: Back in the low-income neighbourhood where she was raised, a young woman rediscovers the importance of community, home, and finding one’s voice.
Just before the demolition of her childhood home in east Toronto, Delia Ellis returns to retrieve her beloved diary. Using it as a compass, she rediscovers life as a precocious teen growing up in the nineties.
Delia’s writings reveal her anxieties following a move to Don Mount Court, a Toronto government housing complex, where she struggles to navigate life with an overprotective Jamaican mother and her father’s inept replacement, “Neville the nuisance.” Delia’s troubles compound when she enlists her naive younger sister in a scheme to reunite their parents and recapture the idealistic life she yearns for.
Yet, through the lens of adulthood, Delia’s entries take a wrecking ball to the perception of her parents’ love story she’d long built up in her mind, uncovering a child’s internalization of a failed marriage, poverty, and a mother come undone.
"I recommend treating this collection like a box of chocolates: read just one per day and savor it."
Above Discovery, by Jennifer Falkner
About the book: A couple coping with a recent loss are tasked with taking stock of a late biology enthusiast’s hoard. A support worker dedicated to rehabilitating young women suffering from, among other things, a certain unexpected effect of the climate apocalypse faces a truth that shatters the illusion separating her work and her personal life. An archaeologist formerly working in Syria struggles with her decision to flee from unrest, while the people she has left behind face an uncertain fate.
In Jennifer Falkner’s richly imagined first collection, past and present glancingly converge, making the familiar outlines of myth, history, and everyday life seem suddenly strange. With spare, elegant prose, Falkner introduces the reader to those whose narratives are written in the language of empty space. Above Discovery is a stunning debut collection from an author to watch.
"An urgent and engrossing read."
We Meant Well, by Erum Shazia Hasan
About the book: A propulsive debut that grapples with timely questions about what it means to be charitable, who deserves what, and who gets the power to decide
It’s the middle of the night in Los Angeles when Maya, a married mother of one, receives the phone call. Her colleague Marc has been accused of assaulting a local girl in Likanni, where they operate a charitable orphanage. Can she get on the next flight?
When Maya arrives, protesters surround the compound. The accuser is Lele, her former protégé and the chief’s daughter. There are no witnesses, no proof of any crime.
What happened that night? And what will happen to the orphanage if this becomes a scandal? Caught between Marc and Lele, the charity and the villagers, her marriage and new temptations, and between worlds, Maya lives the secret contradictions of the aid worker: there to serve the most deprived, but ultimately there to govern.
As Maya feels the pleasures, freedoms, and humanity of life in Likanni, she recognizes that her American life is inextricably woven into this violent reality—and that dishonesty in one place affects the realities in another.
"An indelible last collection by a writer at the height of his powers."
Instructions for Drowning, by Stephen Heighton
About the book: A man recalls his father's advice on how to save a drowning person, but struggles when the time comes to use it. A wife’s good deed leaves a couple vulnerable at the moment when they’re most in need of security—the birth of their first child. Newly in love, a man preoccupied by accounts of freak accidents is befallen by one himself. In stories about love and fear, idealisms and illusions, failures of muscle and mind and all the ways we try to care for one another, Steven Heighton’s Instructions for the Drowning is an indelible last collection by a writer working at the height of his powers.
"As a reading experience, it is utterly transfixing, constantly surprising, and truly a wonder to behold."
Wait Softly Brother, by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
About the book: From lost siblings to the horrors of war to tales of selkie wives, Wait Softly Brother is filled with questions about memory, reality and the truths hidden in family lore.
After twenty years of looping frustrations Kathryn walks out of her marriage and washes up in her childhood home determined to write her way to a new life. There she is put to work by her aging parents sorting generations of memories and mementos as biblical rains fall steadily and the house is slowly cut off from the rest of the world. Lured away from the story she is determined to write—that of her stillborn brother, Wulf—by her mother’s gift of crumbling letters, Kathryn instead begins to piece together the strange tale of an earlier ancestor, Russell Boyt, who fought as a substitute soldier in the American Civil War. As the water rises, and more truths come to the surface, the two stories begin to mingle in unexpected and beautiful ways. In this elegantly written novel Kuitenbrouwer deftly unravels the stories we are told to believe by society and shows the reader how to weave new tales of hope and possibility.
"In the tradition of writers such as Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier, and Lisa Tuttle..."
Homebodies, by Amy LeBlanc
About the book: "Let me tell you a story: my mother will say she's a liar and my father will say she remembers things that never happened, but you and I know that isn?t true. Before I tell you, pick up a pair of scissors, or a pen, or a branch, or a flower stem'something to play with when you don?t want to meet my eyes. Unhinge the wasps from your insides before their black venom seeps through." ("Nectar and Nickel")
Homebodies is an uncanny and ghostly debut with stories that provoke dread, abjection, and horror. The tales are intertwined and linked like a chain of dried daisies or butterfly legs: someone you used to know is on trial for murder. You work at a funeral home. Your dead grandmother calls you on the phone. You pin and preserve butterflies on a corkboard as a strange girl knocks on your door. You put a bike lock on the fridge. You sleepwalk. You attend a party. You get sick. You get an IV infusion. You don't get better.
The stories in Homebodies show that you don't need a house to be haunted—the body can do that all on its own.
"Gentle, wise and beautifully weird..."
Burr, by Brooke Lockyer
About the book: A ’90s-era Southern Ontario Gothic about holding on to the dead, voiced with plaintive urgency and macabre sensuality.
In the small town of Burr, Ontario, thirteen-year-old Jane yearns to reunite with her recently deceased father and fantasizes about tunnelling through the earth to his coffin. This leads her to bond with local eccentric Ernest, who is still reeling from the long-ago drowning of his little sister. Jane’s mother, Meredith, escapes into wildness, enacting the past on the abandoned bed that she finds in the middle of the forest, until her daughter’s disappearance spurs her into action.
The voice of the town conveys the suspicions and subliminal fears of a rural community—a chorus of whispers that reaches a fever pitch when Jane and Ernest disappear from Burr together. Throughout, the novel is haunted by Henry, a former wrestler who once stood on his bed in the middle of the night, holding up the weight of the ceiling in his sleeping hands.
Mixing realism and the fantastic, Brooke Lockyer’s debut novel investigates the nature of grief and longing that reach beyond the grave.
"A captivating story about the complexity of hope and the limits of good intent."
The Morning Bell Brings the Broken Hearted, by Jennifer Manuel
About the book: Exploring the intricacies of power, culture and emotion when a non-Indigenous person moves to an Indigenous community as an educator, Jennifer Manuel casts a spell as captivating and perceptive as in her bestselling novel The Heaviness of Things That Float.
When new teacher Molleigh Royston moves to Tawakin—a remote Nuu-chah-nulth community in the Pacific Northwest—she arrives with good intentions. However, as she struggles to understand and help her students, doubts begin to accumulate—including doubts about her own motivations. Things escalate when three students start behaving strangely and Molleigh makes a serious cultural transgression, triggering a series of disturbing events in the village. Giant boulders are placed in front of Molleigh’s house, furniture moves mysteriously and flowers erupt in flame.
The Morning Bell Brings the Broken Hearted is a captivating story about the complexity of hope and the limits of good intent, offering a grave look at how the education system fails remote Indigenous communities, leaving Indigenous students, with all their brilliance and resilience, in the hands of transient educators.
"...furious, funny, wise, and powered by profound empathy."
What Comes Echoing Back, by Leo McKay Jr.
About the book: A poignant novel imbued with music from the Giller Prize—shortlisted author of Like This and Twenty-Six that follows two social outcasts as they navigate through their traumatic pasts.
The worst moment of Sam's life was captured on video and shared across the Internet for all to gawk at. This is something she has in common with Robot, who just wants to move past the mistakes he's made, if only his small town will let him. When the two meet in a high school music class, they start to find their way to each other. Music might offer a way not only forward, but forward together, if Sam and Robot can overcome the echoes of the moments that made them infamous.
The past reverberates in ways we don't expect, in this new novel by Giller Prize—shortlisted author Leo McKay, Jr. From family secrets and old relationships that resurface, to the tape loops that endlessly replay private moments of trauma and despair, What Comes Echoing Back travels back and forth in time to get to what's true, with humour, humanity, and the healing power of music.
"Arundhati Roy as if written in the mode of Alice Munro."
Hands Like Trees, by Sabyasachi Nag
About the book: An act of passion reverberates across continents when Visma Sen decides to remain in Calcutta when his family migrates to Canada.
Sabyasachi Nag evokes the rising heat of Calcutta in the early morning as masterfully as he depicts the calmness of a snow-lit evening street in Brampton, Ontario while the entangled lives of the Sens of Shulut unfurl over three decades. Each linked story is told through the voice of a different member of the Sen family, from Nilroy's movingly excruciating first day as caregiver to Aunt Rita with dementia to Milli's ambition to host her guru Mata G. The experiences of each character draw a portrait of the Sen family, whose wounds drive them to pursue an ever-elusive happiness, while clearly yearning for identity and belonging.
"...stories have a prismatic and glittering brilliance."
The Private Apartments, by Idman Nur Omar
About the book: Moving, insightful, linked stories about the determination of Somali immigrants—despite duty, discrimination, and an ever-dissolving link to a war-torn homeland.
In the insular rooms of The Private Apartments, a cleaning lady marries her employer’s nephew and then abandons him, a depressed young mother finds unlikely support in her community housing complex, a new bride attends weddings to escape her abusive marriage, and a failed nurse is sent to relatives in Dubai after a nervous breakdown. These captivating and compassionate stories eloquently showcase the intricate linkages of human experience and the ways in which Somalis, even as a diaspora, are indelibly connected.
"A compulsively readable, character-driven tale.”
Lost Dogs, by Lucie Pagé
About the book: In this darkly funny debut from Lucie Pagé, characters collide in unexpected ways as they search to create meaning in their lives.
A university English sessional teacher searches for his missing blind pit bull, not entirely aware that his relationship is coming unravelled. Katherine, his girlfriend, pays far more attention to her walk-on role in an alternative theatre production. Fourteen-year-old Becca struggles to get her mother’s attention, while her mother provides calorie-wise snacking and fashion advice and dates Becca’s psychologist. Karl fails to control his embarrassing and shameful bad habit at his dead-end telemarketing job.
Pagé weaves together narratives that speak of people adrift in the conflicting tides of the first decades of the twenty-first century in a novel that echoes the works of Lynda Barry.
"Hazel Jane Plante has given us another inventive wonder to sing about..."
Any Other City, by Hazel Jane Plante
About the book: By the author of Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian): the fictional memoir of a trans indie rock musician that reveals how the act of creation can heal trauma and even change the past.
Any Other City is a two-sided fictional memoir by Tracy St. Cyr, who helms the beloved indie rock band Static Saints. Side A is a snapshot of her life from 1993, when Tracy arrives in a labyrinthine city as a fledgling artist and unexpectedly falls in with a clutch of trans women, including the iconoclastic visual artist Sadie Tang.
Side B finds Tracy in 2019, now a semi-famous musician, in the same strange city, healing from a traumatic event through songwriting, queer kinship, and sexual pleasure. While writing her memoir, Tracy perceives how the past reverberates into the present, how a body is a time machine, how there's power in refusing to dust the past with powdered sugar, and how seedlings begin to slowly grow in empty spaces after things have been broken open.
Motifs recur like musical phrases, and traces of what used to be there peek through, like a palimpsest. Any Other City is a novel about friendship and other forms of love, travelling in a body across decades, and transmuting trauma through art making and queer sex - a love letter to trans femmes and to art itself.
"The two brothers in this story...are as real to me as any kid I grew up with."
Because, by Andrew Steinmetz
About the book: An engrossing punk-rock novel about teenage daydreams and sibling dynamics
Teenaged brothers Hombre and Transformer spend their days locked up in their suburban bedroom, writing songs and dreaming of stardom on their own terms. The music of the early 80s is brimming with post-punk ethos and a disdain for classic rock, but closer to home the pair can't find anyone else to join their band, Because, and frankly they don't really want another member to enter the fray of their complicated sibling dynamic. Hombre, the younger one, is quiet, contemplative, and talented, a poet in the making. His older brother Transformer is stubborn, domineering, and secretly struggling with mental health issues. Their sequestered world is broken open one summer when their mother hires Spit, a girl from the local guitar shop, to help the boys improve their modest skills. But these good intentions set off a chain reaction with tragic consequences.
“A gripping tour-de-force torn from tomorrow’s headlines.”
The Marigold, by Andrew F. Sullivan
About the book: In a near-future Toronto buffeted by environmental chaos and unfettered development, an unsettling new lifeform begins to grow beneath the surface, feeding off the past.
The Marigold, a gleaming Toronto condo tower, sits a half-empty promise: a stack of scuffed rental suites and undelivered amenities that crumbles around its residents as a mysterious sludge spreads slowly through it. Public health inspector Cathy Jin investigates this toxic mold as it infests the city’s infrastructure, rotting it from within, while Sam “Soda” Dalipagic stumbles on a dangerous cache of data while cruising the streets in his Camry, waiting for his next rideshare alert. On the outskirts of downtown, 13-year-old Henrietta Brakes chases a friend deep underground after he’s snatched into a sinkhole by a creature from below.
All the while, construction of the city’s newest luxury tower, Marigold II, has stalled. Stanley Marigold, the struggling son of the legendary developer behind this project, decides he must tap into a hidden reserve of old power to make his dream a reality — one with a human cost.
Weaving together disparate storylines and tapping into the realms of body horror, urban dystopia, and ecofiction, The Marigold explores the precarity of community and the fragile designs that bind us together.
"In a style reminiscent of Carol Shields and Bonnie Burnard..."
Rose Addams, by Margie Taylor
About the book: Rose Addams is hitting her sixties, but these days it feels like they're starting to hit back...
Her daughter, Morgan, has ditched her thesis program and moved back home to Vancouver, while her son Jason's partner has never seen eye to eye with his mother. Her husband Charles has decided to take early retirement from the university to work on his long-gestating book, and his rakish best friend Garnet has a new mistress who is way too young for their social circle. When Rose encounters a young man panhandling outside of her library office though, a chain of events is set in motion whereby Rose will have to confront all the facets of her rapidly-complicating life...
Recalling the work of Caroline Adderson, Krista Foss, and Marie-Renée Lavoie, Margie Taylor's Rose Addams is an insight into the life of a woman who is in the process of beginning her third act, an empathetic and incisive look at the problems of those just exiting middle age while attempting to keep up with a rapidly-changing world.
"English, French, and Michif gallop across its pages, mingling and colliding like the fractious history of the Canadian West echoing into the present."
Hold Your Tongue, by Matthew Tétreault
About the book: Upon learning his great-uncle Alfred has suffered a stroke, Richard sets out for Ste. Anne, in southeastern Manitoba, to find his father and tell him the news. Waylaid by memories of his stalled romance, tales of run-ins with local Mennonites, his job working a honey wagon, and struck by visions of Métis history and secrets of his family's past, Richard confronts his desires to leave town, even as he learns to embrace his heritage.
Evoking an oral storytelling epic that weaves together one family's complex history, Hold Your Tongueasks what it means to be Métis and francophone. Recalling the work of Katherena Vermette and Joshua Whitehead, Matthew Tétreault's debut novel shines with a poignant, but playful character-driven meditation on the struggles of holding onto "la langue," and marks the emergence of an important new voice.
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