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Jim Bartley's top 5 for 2009 Add to ...

To read the Globe's review of the books listed here, click on the title.

THE NIGHT IS A MOUTH By Lisa Foad, Exile Editions, 154 pages, $21.95

The stories in this ReLit Award winner feel like a brand new thing. Lisa Foad posits that reality is anyone's guess, certainty a delusion. Foad's risk-taking never reads as quirk - only exhilarating exploration. Her tales toy eerily with the subconscious, leaving to readers the final reckoning.

AMPHIBIAN By Carla Gunn, Coach House, 220 pages, $19.95

The moral centre of this darkly delightful eco-novel is nine-year-old Phineas, tireless crusader for the ill-used creatures of our fragile Earth. Phin's voice is irresistible: discerning yet innocent, enraged yet brimming with love. Gunn's story, cutting despair with healing mirth, is his perfect vehicle.

DIARY OF INTERRUPTED DAYS By Dragan Todorovic, Random House Canada, 252 pages, $29.95

The best fiction makes you feel there are no strangers. This sardonic dispatch from post-Yugoslav Serbia dovetails a fractured love story with a searing lament for a people cursed by warlords and global censure. Writing in his second language, Todorovic's connect with the universal is hugely impressive.

THE BRISS By Michael Tregebov, New Star, 240 pages, $19

The Briss ricochets from Winnipeg kitchens to the ravaged West Bank. Its family dialogues soar on absurdist realism: the illogic of resentments, clashing egos and dangerous ideals. Mixing humour with the stealthily horrific, Tregebov echoes the incisiveness of Hemingway on war, with stand-up panache in place of biblical cadences.

VANISHING By Deborah Willis, Penguin Canada, 256 pages, $24

Short-listed for a Governor-General's Award, the stories in Vanishing show the magic of fiction at its best: fully realized worlds inseparable from the uncanny fact that they exist as mere words, magnificently strung together. Willis's creative sleight-of-hand illuminates human intricacies as if tapping directly into your own.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

NO PLACE STRANGE By Diana Fitzgerald Bryden, Key Porter, 327 pages, $27.95

Simmering with suspense, this debut is unexpectedly mature in theme. Set largely in war-torn Beirut, it intimately probes diverse lives, combining a volatile love story with a subtle meditation on the roots of terror.

THE CLOCK OF HEAVEN By Dian Day, Inanna, 214 pages, $22.95

Gradually revealing the family secrets of an abandoned child, Dian Day integrates grim humour and straight-up pathos with a subtle mystery. The tale builds to an incendiary climax, then pleasingly delays resolution until the last moment.

OONAGH By Mary Tilberg, Cormorant, 252 pages, $21

Mary Tilberg's pictures from the mind of a 19th-century Irishwoman move from Old World to New, from illicit love to wrenching loss. The story entwines surging raptures and high tragedy in a vividly evoked historical setting.

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