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Whether you like Canadian fiction that keeps the story close to home, deep reads based on current events or reading emerging authors first, Becky Toyne has you covered with a plethora of recommendations

Luca Romeo

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Made in Canada

This season’s lead Canadian titles stay close to home with stories set in locations across Canada. In Days by Moonlight (Coach House Books, Feb. 19), the fourth instalment in André Alexis’s “quincunx” of novels that includes the Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning Fifteen Dogs, a botanist and a professor embark on a Dantesque journey through Southwestern Ontario. Daniel Goodwin’s second novel, The Art of Being Lewis (Cormorant Books, March 23), tells the story of a Jewish boy from Montreal whose world falls apart in a series of unfortunate events after he moves to Moncton. And Ian Williams – familiar to many as the author of poetry and short stories – heads to Brampton, Ont., for his debut novel, Reproduction (McClelland & Stewart, Jan. 22), a Zadie Smithian love story.

Megan Gail Coles can arguably already claim the prize for this year’s best title with Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club (House of Anansi Press, Feb. 12). Highly regarded as an author of stories and drama, Coles is making her debut as a novelist. Billed as “Newfoundland gothic for the 21st Century,” this perfect winter read takes place in February in St. John’s.

Turning to Canadian history, Kevin Major reimagines the sinking of a passenger ferry in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1942 in his Second World War-set novel, Land Beyond the Sea (Breakwater Books, Jan. 25). While in historical Canadian non-fiction, author and forensic anthropologist Debra Komar tells the true story of a 1921 trial in which two Inuit men were falsely convicted and executed in The Court of Better Fiction: Three Trials, Two Executions, and Arctic Sovereignty (Dundurn, March 16).

David Bezmozgis’s and Ayelet Tsabari’s new books both deal with identity and immigration. With stories set in locations from Riga to Montreal, Bezmozgis’s Immigrant City and Other Stories (HarperCollins, March 12), is the Natasha and Other Stories author’s first collection in close to 15 years. Israeli-Canadian Tsabari won awards and international acclaim for her debut story collection, The Best Place on Earth – pretty impressive for someone who didn’t write her first story in English until 2006. Her non-fiction debut is the memoir-in-essays The Art of Leaving (HarperCollins, Feb. 19), from which excerpts have already scooped magazine awards.

While much poetry is held back for National Poetry Month in April, a few collections are out this winter. McClelland & Stewart’s inaugural list under the editorial eye of Dionne Brand showcases new work by poets including Souvankham Thammavongsa (Cluster, March 26) and Cassidy McFadzean (Drolleries, March 26). New collections by Dina Del Bucchia (It’s a Big Deal! Talonbooks, March 25), and Natalee Caple (Love in the Chthulucene (Cthulhucene), James Street North Books, March 19) will also hit shelves in March.

Oh, and while you wait for Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale (coming September, 2019), there’s The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel (McClelland & Stewart, March 26), with art and adaptation by Renée Nault.

Three Canadian debuts to watch

Praise from a who’s who of the most important and celebrated Canadian authors of the past two years graces the cover of Alicia Elliot’s debut, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground (Doubleday Canada, March 26). In these essays, Elliot asks essential questions about the treatment of Indigenous people in North America while drawing on intimate details of her own life and experience with intergenerational trauma. “Incisive,” Katherena Vermette says. “A stunning, vital triumph of writing,” David Chariandy says.

Philip Huynh dives into the Vietnamese diaspora in his debut story collection The Forbidden Purple City (Goose Lane, March 12), which takes its title from the walled palace of Vietnam’s Nguyen dynasty. And with Shut Up, You’re Pretty (VS Books, March 31) there are two debuts in one: This punchy short story collection from Téa Mutonji is the launch title for VS Books, a new imprint of Arsenal Pulp Press curated and edited by writer-artist-musician Vivek Shraya.

New arrivals from overseas

Fairy tales, folklore and myth inform a group of highly anticipated new novels from international household names. Billed as an African Game of Thrones, Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Bond Street Books, Feb, 5), the new tome from A Brief History of Seven Killings author Marlon James, begins James’s Dark Star trilogy. Narrated by a chi or guardian spirit, An Orchestra of Minorities (Little, Brown & Co., Jan. 8) by Chigozie Obioma (The Fishermen) is the story of a Nigerian poultry farmer who loses everything trying to win the woman he loves. And there’s magic in spades in Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Henry Holt & Co, March 5). This sequel to Adeyemi’s young adult fantasy Children of Blood and Bone has an initial print run of one million and is aimed at readers 14 and older.

In Karen Thompson Walker’s sophomore novel, The Dreamers (Doubleday, Jan. 15), a mysterious sleeping sickness takes over the lives of people in an isolated college town. As with Walker’s debut, The Age of Miracles, this one will have crossover appeal to young-adult readers. As might Helen Oyeyemi’s (Boy, Snow, Bird, The Icarus Girl) Gingerbread (Hamish Hamilton, March 5), a delightful family yarn in which a family’s legacy is a recipe for that fairy-tale staple: gingerbread.

Two recent word-of-mouth smash hits (that couldn’t be more different) have companion books coming this winter: Fans of Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny can look forward to Adèle (Penguin, Jan. 15), Slimani’s novel about a sex-addicted woman in Paris, while lovers of John Williams’s Stoner will rejoice at the North American reissue of the author’s brooding first novel, Nothing but the Night (New York Review Books, Feb. 12) – originally published in 1948 but out of print since 1990.

Two non-fiction books receiving a big push in the “if you liked this, you’ll love that” category also introduce two new authors: Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive (Hachette Books, Jan. 22) by Stephanie Land is a look at poverty in the United States that will appeal to readers of Nickel and Dimed (whose author, Barbara Ehrenreich, supplied the introduction). And for an Eat, Pray, Love kind of vibe but with dogsledding in Yukon and Alaska, look no further than Kristin Knight Pace’s memoir This Much Country (Grand Central Publishing, March 5).

Buzzy books with a backstory

When novelist Jojo Moyes offered to let an aspiring writer spend a week at her cottage, Candice Carty-Williams was selected from more than 600 applicants based on a 500-word sample. Carty-Williams is a marketing executive at Penguin Random House UK by day, and is the founder of Britain’s Guardian and Fourth Estate BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) Short Story Prize. Her debut novel, Queenie (Scout Press, March 19), netted a hefty advance in multiple countries. Billed as Bridget Jones’s Diary meets Americanah, this London-set story of a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman straddling two cultures is being presented as a lead title on both sides of the Pond.

Into That Fire (Knopf, Feb 19) is a novel by M.J. Cates. Which is to say that it is a novel by a person who for the purposes of this novel shall be called “M.J. Cates,” but whose name isn’t, in fact, M.J. Cates. “M.J. Cates,” we are told, was born in Canada, has lived here and in Britain, and is an award-winning author of many novels under another name. A First World War-set love story, this novel will appeal to fans of Anthony Doerr, Paula McLain and who-wrote-it, secret-author mysteries.

Translations from Nordic countries have long been big business in the English-language market, but it’s unlikely you have many books from Greenland on your shelf. Hailed as “Greenland’s unlikely literary star” by the New Yorker in January, 2017, Niviaq Korneliussen’s debut novel is only now coming to North American readers (translated by Anna Halager from Korneliussen’s own translation into Danish, and not the original Greenlandic). Last Night in Nuuk (Grove/Atlantic, Jan. 25) is the story of five people on the cusp of adulthood in Greenland’s capital.

“Going viral” isn’t something one usually expects of serious literature, but that’s what happened when Kristin Roupenian’s Cat Person was published in the New Yorker in December, 2017. Chances are pretty good that you read it and have an opinion about it, or at the very least read a think piece about it and have an opinion about that. Cue You Know You Want This: Cat Person and Other Stories (Scout Press, Jan. 15), Roupenian’s debut collection (in the Cat Person vein), which netted the author a reported seven-figure advance.

In the spring of 2018, Shannon Webb-Campbell’s Who Took My Sister?, a collection of letters and poems about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, was pulled from publication after it came to light that the author had not sought permission from the women’s families to use their loved ones’ stories. In I Am a Body of Land (Book*hug, Jan. 8), Webb-Campbell revisits that earlier text to present a new work that is an examination of accountability, learning and undoing harm. The book was reworked with guidance from celebrated author Lee Maracle, who also edited the new poems and supplied the introduction.

Ripped from the headlines

Headlines new, old and seemingly eternal take book-length form across genres this season. In Blamed and Broken: The Mounties and the Death of Robert Dziekanski (Dundurn, Jan 12), CBC investigative reporter Curt Petrovich digs into the decade-long legal saga that followed the taser tragedy watched around the world. New York Times Canada-bureau chief Catherine Porter shares a personal story in A Girl Named Lovely: One Child’s Miraculous Survival and My Journey into the Heart of Haiti (Simon & Schuster, Feb. 26), memoirs about the profound effect a young girl in postearthquake Haiti had on the journalist’s life. And after more than four decades spent in solitary confinement for a crime he didn’t commit, Albert Woodfox shares his story in Solitary: Unbroken By Four Decades in Solitary Confinement. My Story of Transformation and Hope (HarperCollins, March 3).

For readers 14 and up, Malala Yousafzai will release We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World (Little, Brown, Jan. 8). And perhaps as an antidote for readers weary of European political squabbles, celebrated scientist Tim Flannery’s Europe: A Natural History (Grove/Atlantic, Feb. 15) puts things into evolutionary perspective with a 100-million-year natural history of the continent.

Nilofar Shidmehr depicts the rich lives of postrevolution Iranian women in Divided Loyalties (Astoria, Feb. 5), a collection of short stories published on the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. While in Spies of No Country: Behind Enemy Lines at the Birth of the Israeli Secret Service (Signal, March 5), Matti Friedman, whose Pumpkinflowers was beloved by reviewers and prize juries in 2016, shares the never-before-told story of the Jewish “Arab” spies who helped the new state of Israel win the War of Independence.

Gentrification, the condoization of cities and community in a capitalist society are the subject of Leaving Richard’s Valley (Drawn & Quarterly, March 19) an outlandish graphic novel by Michael DeForge: “One of the comic-book industry’s most exciting, unpredictable talents” (NPR). And in High Time: The Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada (McGill Queens University Press, March 30), editors Andrew Potter and Daniel Weinstock provide an overview of Canada’s cannabis legislation for policy wonks.

Young adult stories of love, rebellion and culture

Three books for readers 12 and up deal with young love, rebellion and feeling out of your comfort zone. Tanaz Bhathena’s (A Girl Like That) new young-adult romance, The Beauty of the Moment (Penguin Teen, Feb. 26), features two teens who meet at a fundraiser for Syrian refugees. Samira Ahmed’s second novel (after Love, Hate, & Other Filters) is Internment (Little, Brown, March 19), a story of rebellion set in an internment camp for Muslim Americans in a near-future United States. And in Ben Philippe’s debut, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager (Balzer & Bray, Jan. 8), a black French-Canadian boy finds himself out of his comfort zone when his family moves to Austin, Tex.

Aimed at readers 14 and up, Sabina Khan’s The Love and Lies of Rukshana Ali (Scholastic, Jan. 29) is the story of a 17-year-old girl straddling cultures and struggling to live up to her Muslim parents’ expectations, especially when she’s caught kissing her girlfriend.

New tales for small children

Written by Guy and Patricia Storms and illustrated by Milan Pavlovic, bedtime story Moon Wishes (Groundwood, March 1) is a gorgeous and colourful alternative to perennial favourite Goodnight Moon. Author Mark Lee and illustrator Nathalie Dion introduce young readers to the water cycle in The Biggest Puddle in the World (Groundwood, March 1), a sweet story about two siblings who go exploring with their grandfather after a storm. And acclaimed novelist and poet Katherena Vermette adds to her children’s picture-book catalogue with The Girl and the Wolf (Theytus Books, Feb. 5), an empowering Indigenous twist on a classic wolf narrative illustrated by Julie Flett.

Becky Toyne is the “Should I Read It?” columnist for Day 6 on CBC Radio and a regular contributor to Globe Books.

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