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The most anticipated books of 2017

Books editor Mark Medley previews 17 books you’ll want to read during the first half of 2017

Little Heaven

By Nick Cutter, Gallery Books, January

Over the past several years, Craig Davidson has reinvented himself as the chameleon of CanLit, changing his colours with each book. He snagged a spot on the Giller Prize shortlist with his fantastic coming-of-age thriller Cataract City; tugged on readers’ heartstrings in his memoir Precious Cargo; and, as his sinister alter-ego Nick Cutter, published a trio of gripping horror novels, including the Stephen King-endorsed The Troop. In Little Heaven, a horrific western set in the wilds of New Mexico, three hired guns embark on what might turn out to be a suicide mission.

The Abominable Mr. Seabrook

By Joe Ollmann, Drawn & Quarterly, January

Here’s how Wikipedia describes William Buehler Seabrook: “[A]n American Lost Generation occultist, explorer, traveler, cannibal, and journalist.” Hamilton-based cartoonist Joe Ollmann spent almost a decade researching the peculiar life of the (now largely forgotten) writer, who travelled the planet searching for the weirdest the world has to offer, and has distilled the results into a graphic biography.

Son of a Trickster

By Eden Robinson, Knopf Canada, February

In November, Eden Robinson won the Writers’ Trust of Canada Engel/Findley Award, which is awarded to a writer not only for the books he or she already published, but “in anticipation of future contributions to Canadian literature.” The timing turned out to be perfect; Son of a Trickster, about a teenage boy who might be more than he appears to be, is Robinson’s first novel in more than a decade, and the first volume in a trilogy that’s likely to be the most ambitious project of her career.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel

By Heather O’Neill, HarperCollins, February

Heather O’Neill is on a roll. Her last two books – the novel The Girl Who Was Saturday Night and the short-story collection Daydreams of Angels – were both shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and she’s about to publish her third book in four years. In The Lonely Hearts Hotel, set in Montreal and New York in the years between the world wars, O’Neill tells the story of two orphans – one a piano virtuoso, the other skilled in comedy and dance – who dream of opening their own circus.

The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth About Men and Women in the 21st Century

By Stephen Marche, HarperCollins, March

It’s uncontroversial to say that Stephen Marche – novelist, journalist, and cultural critic – is a controversial figure. The day I tweeted a photo of the cover of his latest book, I was inundated with offers to review it, mostly from people who most definitely did not send Marche a Christmas card this year. In his latest work of non-fiction, he turns his attention to (good Lord, why?) gender relations. (The opening sentence: “It is a well-established fact at this moment in history that men talk too much.”) The Unmade Bed includes “commentary” from his wife, Toronto Life editor-in-chief Sarah Fulford.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

By Scaachi Koul, Doubleday Canada, March

Scaachi Koul, a senior writer for BuzzFeed Canada and one of the few people who make Twitter enjoyable, delivers her first collection of essays, the subjects of which vary wildly – growing up as the child of immigrants, her relationship with her parents, her love-hate relationship with her hometown of Calgary, casual racism, fear, body hair, dating a white guy, visiting India, social media and Matt Braga.

Men Walking On Water

By Emily Schultz, Knopf Canada, March

No, the title of Emily Schultz’s fourth novel doesn’t refer to Jesus; rather, her latest takes us back to Prohibition’s heyday. Set during the construction of the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ont. Schultz’s cast includes an ethically compromised reverend, a former soldier, a French-Canadian madam, an indebted young mother and her husband, a missing rum-runner whose fate ties these disparate characters together.

Roughneck

By Jeff Lemire, Simon & Schuster, April

Only months after the publication of Secret Path, his bestselling collaboration with musician Gord Downie about the death of Chanie Wenjack, Toronto cartoonist Jeff Lemire (of Essex County fame) returns with the story of a hard-drinking former hockey player, haunted by his past, and his estranged sister, who has fled her violent boyfriend. Together, they take refuge at an abandoned hunting camp, deep in the woods, and try to reconcile.

When You Find Out the World is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments

By Kelly Oxford, HarperCollins, April

Since publishing her first (and excellent) collection of essays, Everything is Perfect When You’re A Liar, Kelly Oxford’s influence has only grown. I dislike the term Twitter celebrity, but Oxford rose to prominence in large part thanks to the social-media platform, which she continues to harness in often surprising, important ways. (Last fall, she sparked a revolution when she asked followers to “tweet me your first assaults” in the wake of president-elect Donald Trump’s comments about sexually assaulting women.) The Edmonton-born, Los Angeles-based writer’s new book of essays explores parenthood, fame, depression, and all the things that make her a must-follow on Twitter.

American War

By Omar El Akkad, McClelland & Stewart, April

This award-winning journalist, until recently with The Globe and Mail, turns to fiction with a debut novel set in a not-too-distant America – ravaged by environmental calamities, dwindling resources and population displacement – that has fractured and descended into a second civil war. Considering the country’s current political and social climate, it almost seems as if Omar El Akkad wrote this in the future and sent it back as a warning.

Little Sister

By Barbara Gowdy, HarperCollins, April

In her first novel in a decade, Barbara Gowdy tells the story of a woman named Rose, still haunted by the death of her sister in childhood, who runs a small second-run movie theatre along with her widowed mother. When a series of fantastic summer storms strike Toronto, Rose starts experiencing strange, ultrarealistic dreams in which she’s living someone else’s life – a life with which she soons becomes obsessed. Gowdy is one of Canada’s most imaginative writers, and it’ll be great to have her back.

The Last Neanderthal

By Claire Cameron, Doubleday Canada, April

Claire Cameron is an author who obviously likes a challenge. Her last novel, The Bear, was narrated by a six-year-old girl, while her latest time-travels 40,000 years into the past – think of it as a modern version of The Clan of the Cave Bear. The novel is split in two; one part is told from the point of view of the teenage daughter of what may be the last neanderthal family, who comes into the care of a foundling, while the other section takes place during the present day, and concerns an archaeologist expecting her first child.

We’ll All Be Burnt In Our Beds Some Night

By Joel Thomas Hynes, HarperCollins, April

The fiction of Joel Thomas Hynes – Down to the Dirt, which later was adapted into a film in which he starred, and Right Away Monday – is filled with broken characters, unfulfilled dreams, and lost opportunities. He’s like Canada’s Irvine Welsh. The tradition continues in his first novel in 10 years, about a man who embarks on a cross-Canada road trip to scatter his girlfriend’s ashes on a B.C. beach.

Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall

By Suzette Mayr, Coach House Books, April

The Calgary writer’s first novel in six years is described as “an unholy collision of Stoner, The Haunting of Hill House, Charlie Brown and Alice in Wonderland,” which is pretty much all I need to know. Still not sold? Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, which might best be described as a Gothic campus satire, tells the story of the titular English scholar, who must deal with scheming colleagues, a missing friend, a haunted workplace and, oh, an army of demonic rabbits.

I Hear She’s A Real Bitch

By Jen Agg, Doubleday Canada, April

Both a restaurateur (The Black Hoof, Cocktail Bar and Rhum Corner in Toronto; Agrikol in Montreal) and an industry activist, of sorts, Jen Agg has become not only one of the most interesting personalities in the country’s culinary scene, but in the country. Her delightfully named memoir is much-anticipated by her admirers and probably equally feared by those who staff Canada’s most acclaimed kitchens. This one is going to be delicious.

The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of Eulogy

By Julia Cooper, Coach House Books, May

What do we do, and how should we behave, when a loved one dies? In the latest entry in Coach House’s indispensable Exploded Views series of non-fiction books, journalist Julia Cooper looks at the history and future of eulogy, an art form she argues has been sapped of its power, but may yet be resurrected.

The Canadaland Guide to Canada (Published in America)

By Jesse Brown, Touchstone, May

There are going to be dozens of books capitalizing on the sesquicentennial, but only one whose cover features Drake tenderly caressing a moose. That should give you some idea what to expect from media critic Jesse Brown’s first book, written with Vicky Mochama and Nick Zarzycki, that sounds like it will basically be a Comedy Central roast of Canada in book form. Americans thinking of moving north might want to read this one first.

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