The Bliss House, by Jim Bartley
Why we're taking notice: You might remember Bartley as a longtime fiction columnist at the Globe & Mail. His first two novels were set mainly in Balkan war zones and now here is something different.
About the book: For near a century the reclusive Bliss clan farmed the same land. Now it’s 1963 and everyone’s gone except teenage Cam, his older cousin Wes, and little Dorie. They buried Gran over a year ago. But Gramp is still with them, wrapped tight as a mummy in an old tarp in the cold room off the kitchen. Life’s better now without the old man’s rants and terrors.
There are problems with the land lease and the meddlesome, moralizing neighbours, and rumours are spreading in town that there’s something not quite right about Cam and Wes, but they’re taking care of it all as best they can. Then the local Children’s Aid drops by to say Dorie needs schooling and proper parents, and it’s clear they can’t hide their secrets any longer. They’re on the road, heading north, with a body in the trunk. Wes knows a place, a cabin deep in the woods …
No matter what they do, gruesome casualties seem to follow them. It could be funny if it wasn’t so nightmarish. And through it all, a tender secret love thrives, as they try to hold on to the family they’ve built together.
The Observer, by Marina Endicott
Why we're taking notice: CanLit fave Endicott has written a novel drawn from her own experience, the truth as only fiction can tell it.
About the book: When Julia arrives in Medway, accompanying her beloved Hardy on his first posting as an RCMP constable, she tries to explain her new life to old friends from the city, but can find no shared vocabulary to convey this rural reality, let alone police life. As Hardy disappears into long days at work, Julia takes a job as editor of the local newspaper, the Observer. Interviewing people to compose a view of the town each week, she gathers knowledge of the community’s surface joys and sorrows; meanwhile, Hardy is immersed in violence and loss, and Julia can only witness his increasing exhaustion. At first this new life together is an adventure, but as in all the best stories, time darkens and deepens it.
Grounded in Marina Endicott’s own experience in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, The Observer is an essential story from one of our most beloved storytellers. Endicott writes with the sure pacing and insight of a master novelist, piecing haunting details into a quietly devastating revelation of the fragility of life and law in a tightknit community.
Breaking and Entering, by Don Gillmor
Why we're taking notice: Because the New York Times told us, "In a quiet story....[Gillmore] deftly converges doubt, infidelity and the fragility of family in a narrative that is both thrilling and relatable."
About the book: During the hottest summer on record, Bea's dangerous new hobby puts everyone's sense of security to the test.
Forty-nine and sweating through the hottest summer on record, Beatrice Billings is rudderless: her marriage is stale, her son communicates solely through cryptic text messages, her mother has dementia, and she conducts endless arguments with her older sister in her head. Toronto feels like an inadequately air-conditioned museum of its former self, and the same could be said of her life. She dreams of the past, her days as a newlywed, a new mom, a new homeowner gutting the kitchen—now the only novel experience that looms is the threat of divorce.
Everything changes when she googles "escape" and discovers the world of amateur lock-picking. Breaking into houses is thrilling: she’s subtle and discreet, never greedy, but as her curiosity about other people’s lives becomes a dangerous compulsion and the entire city feels a few degrees from boiling over, she realizes she must turn her guilty analysis on herself. A searingly insightful rendering of midlife among the anxieties of the early twenty-first century, Breaking and Entering is an exacting look at the fragility of all the things we take on faith.
Soft Serve, by Allison Graves
Why we're taking notice: Graves is a past winner of Room Magazine's Fiction contest and current fiction editor of Riddle Fence, which are some short fiction bonafides.
About the book: Allison Graves’ edgy debut collection of short fiction scrutinizes unconventional and confused attachments between people and the reasons they last. The extraordinary becomes the ordinary as people navigate the weird, the quirky, and the sad aspects of everyday life.
Through encounters in retail and fast food chains, on highways and dating apps, the characters in this collection wander through the non-places of our modern lives. The stories connect readers to the spaces that ultimately make them feel lost—zones for reconsideration. Delving into the confusion and boredom of everyday life, Graves’ fiction documents the emotional experiences and disillusionment of middle-class millennials seeking a meaningful life in both the isolating and the ordinary.
Kukum, by Michel Jean, translated by Susan Ouriou
Why we're taking notice: In its original French, Kukum was a bestseller and won the Prix France-Québec in 2020.
About the book: Kukum recounts the story of Almanda Siméon, an orphan raised by her aunt and uncle, who falls in love with a young Innu man despite their cultural differences and goes on to share her life with the Pekuakami Innu community. They accept her as one of their own: Almanda learns their language, how to live a nomadic existence, and begins to break down the barriers imposed on Indigenous women. Unfolding over the course of a century, the novel details the end of traditional ways of life for the Innu, as Almanda and her family face the loss of their land and confinement to reserves, and the enduring violence of residential schools.
Kukum intimately expresses the importance of Innu ancestral values and the need for freedom nomadic peoples feel to this day.
Jumbo, by Stephen Gerard Malone
Why we're taking notice: Because we never miss a chance to update our CanLit Elephants in Novel List!
About the book: There was, perhaps, no living creature more famous in the nineteenth century than Jumbo the elephant. Born in 1860 and taken from the wilds between Sudan and Eritrea at the age of two, he was sold to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, and then to the London Zoological Gardens, before becoming the prized possession of notorious American showman P. T. Barnum. "Jumbomania" swept England, embroiled the Houses of Parliament, erupted into open warfare in the British and American press, and monopolized popular kitsch and culture. By the time Jumbo sailed into New York City in 1882, thousands scrambled for a chance to see "The Sun of the Amusement World."
In this magnificent feat of historical fiction, Jumbo's story is told by Little Eyes Nell Kelly, The World's Smallest Singing, Dancing, Horse-riding Woman and Barnum's star attraction. Initially jealous of her gargantuan new co-star, Nell keeps a close eye on Jumbo and his reclusive and dedicated trainer, Matthew Scott. But Nell soon realizes that she and Jumbo are simply two caged creatures in a circus full—and Jumbo's confinement is slowly killing him. As The Greatest Show on Earth criss-crosses North America, Nell must brave greedy circus showmen, backstabbing trapeze artists, and the relentless pursuit of the cruel animal trainer, Elephant Bill, to keep the curtain from closing on her career—and her very life.
Taking readers from the deserts of Sudan to Buckingham Palace, to the manor houses of Connecticut and the dizzying heights of the Brooklyn Bridge, and every "one-saloon-three-church town" in between, Jumbo is a menagerie of riotous colour that brings Jumbo's incredible story to life, and a masterful novel that explores exploitation, unrequited love, and the unbreakable bond between living things.
Not That Kind of Place, by Michael Melgaard
Why we're taking notice: From its starred review in Quill & Quire: "Not That Kind of Place utterly captivates...."
About the book: In May 1997, eighteen-year-old Laura McPherson left her house for a run and didn’t return …
Twenty years later, a reporter arrives in the small town of Griffiths to write an article about the unsolved murder of Laura McPherson. He is the most recent in a long line of journalists, podcasters, and amateur sleuths seeking new insights into what really happened to Laura.
Laura’s younger brother, David, a repressed and stuck thirty-something, is dealing with the recent death of his mother when the reporter comes knocking. The last surviving family member, David has lived a sheltered life, protected from the prying eyes of the media by his mother. But David cannot escape the past forever, and soon finds himself confronting the lasting impact of his sister’s death. As David learns more about his sister and the history of Griffiths, his eyes are opened to the casual violence, misogyny, and racism that lurk just below the surface of his seemingly placid community.
Provocative and haunting, Not That Kind of Place is a literary anti-mystery, a compelling exploration of our obsession with true-crime stories and the devastating effects of systemic violence on our most vulnerable populations.
River Mumma, by Zalika Reid-Benta
Why we're taking notice: We loved her Giller-longlisted debut, and are thrilled to read what's next!
About the book: Alicia has been out of grad school for months. She has no career prospects and lives with her mom, who won’t stop texting her macabre news stories and reminders to pick up items from the grocery store.
Then, one evening, the Jamaican water deity, River Mumma, appears to Alicia, telling her that she has twenty-four hours to scour the city for her missing comb.
Alicia doesn’t understand why River Mumma would choose her. She can’t remember all the legends her relatives told her, unlike her retail co-worker Heaven, who can reel off Jamaican folklore by heart. She doesn’t know if her childhood visions have returned, or why she feels a strange connection to her other co-worker Mars. But when the trio are chased down by malevolent spirits called duppies, they realize their tenuous bonds to each other may be their only lifelines. With the clock ticking, Alicia’s quest through the city broadens into a journey through time—to find herself and what the river carries.
River Mumma is a powerful portrayal of diasporic identities and a vital examination into ancestral ties. It is a homage to Jamaican storytelling by one of the most invigorating voices in Canadian literature.
Semi-Detached, by Elizabeth Ruth
Why we're taking notice: From Helen Humphreys. “Part love story, part ghost story, part murder mystery—Elizabeth Ruth’s Semi-Detached is all heart.
About the book: Hearts may freeze or thaw, but love never dies.
In December 2013, an ice storm buries Toronto as realtor Laura Keys prepares to sell a one-of-a-kind house on behalf of its comatose owner. Haunting Laura, and longing to be invited in, is a mysterious teenage girl with a Scottish terrier tucked into her coat.
As Laura readies the house for showing, she learns more about its owner, Edna “Eddie” Ferguson. Leading up to the Great Snowstorm of 1944, Eddie, a brickmaker, enters into a passionate yet ill-fated affair with her boss’s daughter. While uncovering the past, Laura navigates both the death of her mother and a troubled marriage straining under the weight of her infertility.
Across two paralyzing winter storms, set nearly seventy years apart and connected by a house and a murder, Semi-Detached contends with living after loss, love, and the meaning of home.
Insightful and evocative, emotionally intelligent and propulsive, this is a novel from a writer at the top of her game.
The Damages, by Genevieve Scott
Why we're taking notice: Because we read it already and it was one of our top books of the summer, a great novel with a campus setting and '90s vibes.
About the book: Sharp and propulsive, The Damages is an engrossing novel set in motion by the disappearance of a student during an ice storm, and explores themes of memory, trauma, friendship, and identity.
What I remember best about that week in January is trying to keep track of all the lies I told.
1997: For Ros, starting university at Regis is an opportunity for reinvention—a chance to be seen as interesting, to be accepted by the in-crowd, and maybe even get a boyfriend. But when she meets her roommate, Megan, with her pleated jeans and horse-print bedding, she sees her as a social liability. Outside of their dorm room, Ros distances herself from Megan and quickly befriends the cool kids, seeking status at all costs. Just after winter break, an intense ice storm hits campus, triggering a reckless, days-long dorm party, during which Megan goes missing. Ros is blamed for the incident and abruptly dropped by her social circle, casting a shadow over the next two decades of her life.
2020: Ros’s former partner, Lukas, the father of her eleven-year-old son, is accused of a sexual assault. The accusation brings new details of an old story to light, forcing Ros to revisit a dark moment from her past. Ros must take a hard look not only at the father of her child, but also at her own mistakes, her own trauma, and at the supposed liberal period she grew up in.
The Damages is a page-turning, thought-provoking novel about the lies we tell other people and the lies we tell ourselves.
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