The seasons sweep by all too quickly in publishing—here we are on the cusp of July where spring books might seem as faraway in the rear-view as the crocuses and cherry blossoms, but let us not sweep away these literary blooms just yet. Here is a list of the fiction that's rocked my reading world this spring, the books that have taken me from blossoms to barbecues, from rain boots to sandals, from my blanket cocoon to the beach. Be sure to pack a few of these gems in your bag this summer.
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.
Beginning with the threat of the Cold War and the ripple effects of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, and punctuated by other disasters both natural and manmade, Some There Are Fearless is an intimate and vulnerable exploration of the thin line between control and chaos from the author of the "terrific debut" (Globe and Mail) One Who Has Been Here Before.
This Is the House That Luke Built, by Violet Browne
About the book: 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.
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.
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.
The Light of Eternal Spring, by Angel Di Zhang
About the book: Angel Di Zhang's intensely cinematic debut novel travels from the streets of New York City to northeast China, on the trail of a young photographer who needs to reconcile with her dead mother before she is able to see the world again.
Amy Hilton, born Wu Aimee in the tiny Chinese village of Eternal Spring, has been living and working as a photographer in New York City for so long she’s started to dream in English. When in the fall of 1999 she receives a letter from her sister, written in her birth tongue of Manchu, she needs to take it to a Chinatown produce vendor to get it translated. And so it is this stranger who tells Amy that her mother has died of a broken heart.
Amy blames herself. How could she not? Her mother has never recovered from her oldest daughter leaving her, first for school, then to pursue her art, and finally to marry a white man. Vowing to be there for her mother in death as she hasn't been in life, she books a flight to China. Haunted by the folk stories her mother told her about a shaman's journey to the underworld to retrieve her child, Amy undertakes a quest that strips away all the elements of her new identity, leaving her ready to make amends. But when she finally reunites with her family, things are far different than she remembers, and her loved ones are less than thrilled to welcome their prodigal daughter home.
Interwoven with indelible scenes from Amy's childhood, The Light of Eternal Spring is a tenderly told story about leaving home and returning again, and about forgetting where you come from until you can't forget any longer. Blending playful magical realism with the family balancing acts all immigrants and artists know so well, Angel Di Zhang creates a nuanced portrait of family lost and family found, of the transformative power of art, and of the need to transform yourself in order to make art that's true.
The Opportunist, by Elyse Friedman
About the book: A deliciously sly, compulsively readable tale about greed, power and the world’s most devious family, for fans of The Nest and Succession.
When Alana Shropshire’s seventy-six-year-old father, Ed, starts dating Kelly, a saucy twenty-eight-year-old, a flurry of messages arrive from Alana’s brothers, urging her to help “protect Dad” from the young interloper. Alana knows that what Teddy and Martin really want to protect is their father’s fortune, and she tells them she couldn’t care less about the May–December romance. Long estranged from her privileged family, Alana has no stake in the game, and as a hardworking single mom, she has more important things to worry about. But when Ed and Kelly’s wedding is announced, Teddy and Martin kick into hyperdrive, and eventually persuade Alana to fly to their father’s 900-acre West Coast island retreat to perform one small task in their plan to lure the “gold digger” away from their father. Kelly, however, proves a lot wilier than expected, and Alana becomes entangled in an increasingly dangerous scheme full of secrets and surprises. Will she be able to escape her brothers’ elaborate web of deceit? Just how far will her siblings go to retain control?
Smart, entertaining and brimming with shocking twists and turns, The Opportunist is both a thrill-ride of a story and a razor-sharp view of who wields power in the world.
Two for the Road, by Chantel Guertin
About the book: For readers of Emily Henry, Gail Honeyman and Josie Silver, a tender, funny and wise new novel about a romance bookshop owner who embarks on the adventure--or misadventure--of a lifetime in search of her own happily ever after.
Sometimes there are detours on the road to love . . .
Beyond the walls of her romance bookstore, Gigi Rutherford is out of stock when it comes to her own love interests. And instead of enduring one bad date after another, these days she'd rather curl up at home with her favorite audiobook and the only man who makes her heart skip a beat: Zane Wilkenson, the smooth-voiced narrator Gigi is convinced is her soulmate.
Then, she's presented with the chance of a lifetime: a ten-day bus tour through the hilly English countryside, taking in the sights and sounds of a world an ocean away from her bookstore--all in the presence of the man of her dreams, Zane, as he leads the tour . . . in person.
But things don't go as planned. When Gigi arrives at the bus terminal in London, Zane is nowhere to be found. Until he shows up, she's stuck with an eclectic group of fellow travelers she'd rather not be with on a long road trip, including the brooding bus driver, Taj, who Gigi finds infuriating but also incredibly alluring.
Will Gigi find a happy ending with Zane? Or will each stop on the tour bring her closer to a completely different destination?
Strange Loops, by Liz Harmer
About the book: As small children, Francine and her twin Philip shared a seemingly unbreakable bond—but in adolescence the connection frayed, and in adulthood the siblings are locked in a repeating loop of complex, destructive emotions. Matters have reached a breaking point, and Francine, now in her thirties and the married mother of two small boys, is convinced that Philip’s teenaged infatuation with religion and subsequent, ongoing obsession with his sister’s “moral impropriety”—sparked by his discovery of her involvement in a forbidden relationship—are to blame.
As storm clouds of resentment and mutual betrayal gather ominously, threatening to upend both siblings’ lives and damage their families, Francine unexpectedly finds herself in a situation that mirrors her earlier transgression: stirred and unsettled by her attraction to a wildly inappropriate man. And the one person who suspects is the last person she trusts—her disapproving twin.
With the plot twists of a thriller, lean prose crackling with intensity, and big ideas explored alongside the messy truth of human relationships, Strange Loops simultaneously shocks and thrills the reader, all while asking vital questions about faith, love, and desire.
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.
What Remains of Elsie Jane, by Chelsea Wakelyn
About the book: Sam is dead, which means that Elsie Jane has just lost the brilliant, sensitive man she planned to grow old with. The early days of grief are a fog of work and single parenting. Too restless to sleep, Elsie pores over Sam’s old love letters, paces her house, and bickers with the ghosts of Sam and her dead parents night after night. As the year unfolds, she develops an obsession with a local murder mystery, attends a series of disastrous internet dates in search of a “replacement soulmate,” and solicits a space-time wizard via Craigslist, convinced he will help her forge a path through the cosmos back to Sam.
Examining the ceaseless labour of motherhood, the stigma of death by drug poisoning, and the allure of magical thinking in the wake of tragedy, What Remains of Elsie Jane is a heart-splitting reminder that grief is born from the depths of love.
To Track a Traitor, by Iona Whishaw
About the book: With events spanning both world wars, the tenth installment in the Lane Winslow mystery series—which first began with the bestselling adventure A Killer in King's Cove—is a transatlantic tale of sibling rivalry, infidelity, and espionage.
It’s an early morning in May when Lane is pulled from a deep sleep by a concerning phone call from Scotland—her grandfather has had a heart attack. Lane hastily makes plans to fly overseas, and a dejected Inspector Darling prepares himself for a stint of bachelorhood. But before he can begin to dwell on it the Nelson Police learn that Ben Arden, a local cad, has gone out for a late-night boat ride and not returned, which immediately sets the town rumour mill churning.
In Scotland Lane finds her grandfather on the mend but her estranged sister Diana caught up in stressful—and mysterious—circumstances of her own. As Lane follows the thread leading from South Africa to Aberdeen to the War Office in London it becomes apparent that her sister is on the run, and that keeping secrets seems to be a Winslow family trait.
Back at the Nelson Police station a strange assemblage of clues begins to amass around the Arden case, stretching from the local printshop all the way back to the Great War. But progress is interrupted when the mayor himself issues a demand that Darling travel to England to tie up a decades-old mystery with local connections. True to form, upon Darling’s arrival in London he is quickly swept up in Lane’s mission, which threatens to endanger the entire family.
Denison Avenue, by Daniel Innes and Christina Wong
About the book: A moving story told in visual art and fiction about gentrification, aging in place, grief, and vulnerable Chinese Canadian elders.
Bringing together ink artwork and fiction, Denison Avenue by Daniel Innes (illustrations) and Christina Wong (text) follows the elderly Wong Cho Sum, who, living in Toronto’s gentrifying Chinatown–Kensington Market, begins to collect bottles and cans after the sudden loss of her husband as a way to fill her days and keep grief and loneliness at bay. In her long walks around the city, Cho Sum meets new friends, confronts classism and racism, and learns how to build a life as a widow in a neighbourhood that is being destroyed and rebuilt, leaving elders like her behind.
A poignant meditation on loss, aging, gentrification, and the barriers that Chinese Canadian seniors experience in big cities, Denison Avenue beautifully combines visual art, fiction, and the endangered Toisan dialect to create a book that is truly unforgettable.
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