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2020 Ottawa Books Awards Finalists
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2020 Ottawa Books Awards Finalists

By 49thShelf
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Since 1985, the Ottawa Book Awards have recognized the top English and French books published in the previous year. Both languages have categories for fiction and non-fiction. All shortlisted finalists receive $1,000 and each winner receives a prize of $7,500. Winners of the 2020 Ottawa Book Awards will be revealed during a virtual awards ceremony on Wednesday, October 21, 2020, at 6:00 p.m. Also on the list and not listed here is Footprints of Dark Energy, by Henry Beissel
Bad Ideas

Bad Ideas

A Novel
also available: eBook Audiobook


Wildly funny and wonderfully moving, Bad Ideas is about just that — a string of bad ideas — and the absurdity of love

Trudy works nights in a linen factory, avoiding romance and sharing the care of her four-year-old niece with Trudy’s mother, Claire. Claire still pines for Trudy’s father, a St. Lawrence Seaway construction worker who left her twenty years ago. Claire believes in true love. Trudy does not. She’s keeping herself to herself. But when Jules Tremblay, aspiring daredevil, wa …

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also available: eBook

Shortlisted for the 2020 Ottawa Book Award
Longlisted for the 2020 Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic

Tanvi isn’t the girl of Misha’s dreams; she’s the girl from his nightmares. She has appeared in his chilling dreams before he even meets her; when he DOES meet her, he falls for her.

Their relationship turns stormy, bordering on abusive, and takes a dramatic turn when they are held captive by a group hoping to extract money from Tanvi’s wealthy family.

Bu …

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Crow Winter

Crow Winter

A Novel
also available: eBook Audiobook (CD)

Nanabush. A name that has a certain weight on the tongue—a taste. Like lit sage in a windowless room or aluminum foil on a metal filling.

Trickster. Storyteller. Shape-shifter. An ancient troublemaker with the power to do great things, only he doesn’t want to put in the work.

Since coming home to Spirit Bear Point First Nation, Hazel Ellis has been dreaming of an old crow. He tells her he’s here to help her, save her. From what, exactly? Sure, her dad’s been dead for almost two years and s …

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The Allspice Bath

The Allspice Bath

also available: eBook Audiobook

It is 1970. The evergreens are thick with snow despite it being the month of April. In an Ottawa hospital, another daughter is born to the Azar family. The parents are from Kfarmichki, a village in Lebanon but their daughters were born in Canada. Four daughters, to be precise. No sons. Youssef is the domineering father. Samira is the quiescent mother. Rima, Katrina and Mona are the traditional daughters. Then there is Adele, the newest member. "You should've been born a boy," Samira whispers to …

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Adele grinned when she heard Ben's name. He was a blond, blue-eyed boy who was new to their school and Adele had a crush on him since the beginning of the year when he chose the desk next to hers and smiled at her with those big, blue eyes. Sometimes she imagined taking his hand and guiding him around the side of the school, gently pushing him against the red-bricked wall and kissing him softly on the lips while his fingers touched her cheeks and felt the heat coming from her skin. As she thought of Ben, her stomach began to flutter. She suddenly felt flushed.

"So, can you make it?" Melissa asked, waking Adele from her fantasy.

"Probably not. You know how my father is," Adele replied, her voice dropping.

"But I'm turning thirteen! I want my best friend to be with me," Melissa said and got up from the bench. She stood in front of Adele and added, "Tell him that. Say it's Melissa's thirteenth birthday and she really wants me to be there. He should understand this. This is a big birthday. I'm becoming a teenager! Why do you think my parents are allowing me to have this party without them in the house? If you want, don't tell them my parents won't be there."

Adele turned from Melissa's downcast face and glanced at her other friends. Tracy and Erin were blonde like Melissa. They were still sitting on the bench, swinging their legs as they too chatted.

"My father wouldn't let me go either way," Adele finally confessed.

"He's so old-fashioned," Melissa groaned.

"I know," Adele agreed. "He thinks I'm some village girl."

"With the goats and donkeys!" Melissa laughed, then Tracy and Erin joined her.

Adele smiled weakly but made no comment. She wanted to explain that those animals were a part of her heritage, a part of her parents' homeland, but she couldn't find the words to do it. Instead she stared down at the ground and shuffled her feet.

"Your father is annoying sometimes. I don't know how you live with him. I would be so embarrassed to have him as a dad," Melissa said.

"He doesn't even look like other dads," Tracy piped up, "with that big, curling moustache. You should try to get him to shave it off, Adele."

Still looking down, Adele lowered her voice again, "I can't get him to do that."

"That's too bad," Melissa answered. "If you had parents like mine, you'd be able to go to my party."

"Well, I don't," Adele said. Her friends knew nothing about her and her culture. Her parents didn't own expensive cars or have university degrees. They didn't read or write English. They couldn't possibly understand the importance of turning thirteen. For them, it was just another number. It didn't guarantee more freedom. She suddenly felt very sorry for herself. Why didn't she have parents who could read and write in English? Why was she born to Samira and Youssef and not to parents like Melissa's? "I'm Lebanese," Adele said, louder than she had intended. "My parents are the way they are because we're Lebanese."

None of her friends replied for a long, awkward moment. Then Melissa finally laughed, reaching her hand out to Adele and squeezing her arm. "But you're like us. You were born in Ottawa, right?"

Adele nodded, sniffling now and wiping her nose with the bottom of her sleeve.

"Didn't you learn anything in Mrs. Johnson's class? That makes you Canadian, not Lebanese."

Adele nodded again and when the bell rang, she followed her friends out of the yard, into the school.


When she walked back home later that day the snow on the crocuses from earlier in the day had melted and the purple flowers were wide open under the sun that now shone, turning the sky a dark shade of orange as dusk began to fall. Adele unzipped her coat, letting her body feel the warmth of the sun. Spring was almost here, she thought, deeply breathing the damp scent that comes when winter melts away and spring arrives again. Kneeling, she touched the purple petals, careful not to break them off the plant and as she rose again, her eyes fell on the layered black hair of a teenaged girl sitting in a red Trans-Am a block away from Adele's house. Her hair was just like Rima's. Was it her? Then Adele spotted a boy, leaning into the girl's face and kissing her. There was no way that Rima could be allowing that, Adele thought, but when the girl turned her face slightly, Adele gasped. It was her sister. She quickly stepped back and hid behind a maple tree, pressing her hands in the rough bark while she peered at her sister and the teenaged boy in the red Trans-Am. From what she could see, he had blond hair and a square-jaw. He definitely wasn't Lebanese. Without budging from her spot, she prayed Rima would pull herself away from this boy and get out of the automobile before their father saw her. After a few minutes of kissing, Rima finally got out and waved at the boy before he sped down the street. Hurrying, Adele came out from behind the tree and ran up the sidewalk to join her sister. She hooked her arm into Rima's, chanting, "Rima and blond boy sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g."

Rima jumped. "Shit, you scared me, Adele!" she exclaimed.

"First comes love, then comes marriage then comes Rima pushing a baby carriage!" Adele teased.

Rima stopped and pushed Adele away from her. "Shut up! Don't tell Babba about this."

"Who is he? Your boyfriend?" Adele crooned.

"None of your damn business." "You know Babba won't let you date him."

"I don't care what he thinks."

"Then why didn't you let him drop you off at home, eh?"

"Shut up, Adele! You better keep your mouth shut or I'll shut it for you," Rima said, raising a clenched fist towards Adele's face.

Adele stepped back. "I'm only teasing."

"Well, I'm not. I'll break every bone in your body if you open your big mouth, understand?" she said fiercely.

Adele noticed the tension around her sister's mouth and realized she wasn't kidding. "I'm sorry," she finally answered."I won't say anything to Babba."

"You better not." She then grabbed Adele's face and squeezed it between her palms. "I'm sorry, too, Monkey but you have to understand that Babba won't like Mitchell."

"Because he's white?"

"Because he's not Lebanese." She dropped her hands and walked ahead of Adele in the direction of the store.

Adele silently followed her sister inside. Youssef was behind the counter as usual. He looked at them and smiled. "Marhaba, my girls. How was school?"

"Good," the sisters replied simultaneously before heading up the stairs to the house.

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Bush Runner

Bush Runner

The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson
also available: Audiobook (CD)

WINNER OF THE 2020 RBC TAYLOR PRIZE • "Readers might well wonder if Jonathan Swift at his edgiest has been at work."—RBC Taylor Prize Jury Citation • "A remarkable biography of an even more remarkable 17th-century individual … Beautifully written and endlessly thought-provoking."—Maclean’s

Murderer. Salesman. Pirate. Adventurer. Cannibal. Co-founder of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Known to some as the first European to explore the upper Mississippi, and widely as the namesake of ships and …

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Murdered Midas

Murdered Midas

A Millionaire, His Gold Mine, and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise
also available: eBook Hardcover Paperback
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A gold mine. A millionaire. An island paradise. An unsolved murder. A missing fortune. The story of the infamous Sir Harry Oakes as only Charlotte Gray can tell it
On an island paradise in 1943, Sir Harry Oakes, gold mining tycoon, philanthropist and "richest man in the Empire," was murdered. The news of his death surged across the English-speaking world, from London, the Imperial centre, to the remote Canadian mining town of Kirkland Lake, in the Northern Ontario bush. The murder became celeb …

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Love Lives Here

Love Lives Here

A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family

An inspirational story of accepting and embracing two trans people in a family--a family who shows what's possible when you "lead with love."

All Amanda Jetté Knox ever wanted was to enjoy a stable life. She never knew her biological father, and while her mother and stepfather were loving parents, the situation was sometimes chaotic. At school, she was bullied mercilessly, and at the age of fourteen, she entered a counselling program for alcohol addiction and was successful. …

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She told me in the car.
   Or rather, she didn’t tell me. Because it’s what wasn’t said that gave it all away—the space between our words leaving a silence where you could almost hear our hearts break.
   It’s funny how much we remember about important moments. That night, a warm summer rain was tapping lightly against the car windows and I could smell the air conditioner as it worked overtime to push out the mugginess of early July. I could hear the splash of puddles as we made our way down the road toward our suburban neighbourhood. I remember how a bright-green grocery store sign lit up the car’s interior as I turned and asked that one pivotal question, and how our ten-minute ride home ended up taking well over an hour.
   Whenever I think about the night my life changed forever, I’m thrust backwards into sensory overload. The sights, the smells, the sounds are forever a part of the memory. It’s only one piece of a much larger story, but I recall it as clearly as I do my chil­dren’s first breaths or my grandmother’s last.
   I suppose this makes sense, since that night was both the start of a new life and the end of an old one.
   By any measure, it had been a terrible date night. Unbelievably so, even for us. And hey, we knew terrible. Back then, I had a mopey, moody partner. This made everything—including date nights—a lot less fun. How do you have a good time when some­one is lugging around misery like a millstone? The person I married barely smiled, even at the best of times. But after more than two decades together, I had come to accept this as our reality. Some people are just not the smiley types, you know?
   Oh, you know. We all know people like this: the ones you can’t coax a grin out of no matter how hard you try. For years, I figured that if I led by example—if I just smiled more, modelled joy or exuded gratitude—the moodiness would disappear. The cloud would lift.
   After trying those techniques for so long, and failing spec­tacularly to get the result I was hoping for, I probably should have known better. Sadly, I’m a killer optimist. I always see a way to let the light in. I’m Charlie Brown running for the football Lucy is holding for me with a mischievous glint in her eye. Damn it, I was going to get the person I’d married to love life, even if it took another two decades. Just watch me.
   That’s why I’d suggested we go for coffee and cinnamon buns. What kind of person can eat a cinnamon bun without cracking a smile? I was sure I had a foolproof plan as we made our way to Quitters, a quaint hipster establishment owned by the famed musician Kathleen Edwards. In 2014, she had pur­posefully stepped away from the spotlight to return to Ottawa and open a coffee shop. Her decision garnered much local atten­tion. Who walks away from a career full of accolades to make espressos in the suburbs? People like Kathleen, that’s who. Those who seem able to shift from one life to another with much grace and little fear. In hindsight, it seems only fitting that a place that symbolizes so much change would serve as the back­drop to our own seismic shift.
   That night, we sat along the back wall in mismatched chairs, a candle dancing on the table between us. I was probably smiling too much and drinking my coffee too fast, which I always do when I’m nervous and fidgety. I know for certain I was asking what was wrong. Because that’s what you do on a date night, right? One of you mopes, and the other tries to prod out the cause. They make movies about people like us and release them on Valentine’s Day.
   “I wish you would just tell me what’s going on with you,” I said. We sang this little song on a regular basis; we both knew the words.
   The person I loved stared out the window. It was nearly dark out; the dim candlelight between us was casting shadows on both our faces. Neither of us was smiling now.
   “It’s nothing. It’s not important.” This was the reply that always followed my prodding.
   “It is important, and I don’t buy that it’s nothing,” I coun­tered, just as I always did. “If it were nothing, you wouldn’t be this unhappy all the time.”
   Unhappy. So unhappy. I was tired of it. Twenty-two years later, it was time to figure out what the hell was going on.
   After years spent emotionally propping up our family—like Atlas with an impressive muffin top—I had reached my limit. All that emotional lifting was exhausting and left little room for compassion. Dealing with a spouse in an Eeyore-like state—anger or melancholy oozing out of every pore—and feeling like I had to crank up my own happiness to shield the kids from it all, my magical well of giving a damn had run dry. And there, at the bottom, sat the bitter little troll I’d become. Because once I had used up all my overcompensating smiles and excessive happiness, once I had tried to make things better yet again, I would land with a thunk on the cold, hard floor of failure. With that, my patience would unravel and the troll would start shouting angrily from the bottom of the well.
   “We have a great life!” I often said when I’d reached my breaking point, my voice filled with frustration. “Three amaz­ing kids, a nice home and full bellies. What more could you ask for? Some people would kill for this life! I just don’t get you.” It was a script I’d memorized.
   But not this time. For some reason, I went rogue. For some reason, on this night—in this place of coffee and big changes—I held it together. Somewhere deep down, I must have had a spe­cial reserve of patience for this occasion—vintage, stored in fancy bottles with dust on them. I pulled some of that patience out of the cellar and stayed surprisingly calm.
   That was a good thing. Because as it turns out, it’s hard to open up to someone if that someone is frustrated. This is espe­cially true if you are holding back on sharing a life-altering secret out of fear of your entire world falling apart.
   I’m glad I drew from my reserve that night. By not getting angry, I changed the pattern. I likely saved us another twenty-two years of dysfunctional dancing. Unfortunately, I took what nor­mally would have been a bad evening and turned it into a truly terrifying one. Because what would be revealed in the car on the ride home would shatter the life I thought we had. In just a few minutes, I would be staring at the rubble beneath my feet and wondering what the hell I had just done.
   But hey, at least I had good intentions.

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Truth Be Told

Truth Be Told

My Journey Through Life and the Law
also available: Hardcover Audiobook Paperback

Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Beverley McLachlin offers an intimate and revealing look at her life, from her childhood in the Alberta foothills to her career on the Supreme Court, where she helped to shape the social and moral fabric of the country.

As a young girl, Beverley McLachlin’s world was often full of wonder—at the expansive prairie vistas around her, at the stories she discovered in the books at her local library, and at the diverse people who passed through h …

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