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BIOGRAPHY/MEMOIR

Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog, by John Grogan, Morrow, 289 pages, $28.95

John Grogan's unsparingly honest memoir is about two nice people and their three children saddled (but also blessed) with a difficult Labrador retriever. Grogan's account of Marley's exploits is belly-clutchingly funny, but no amount of humour can mask the couple's frustration and despair at their dog's destructive ways. Of their 13 years together, Grogan writes: "Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy. . . . Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and . . . unwavering loyalty." He may not have been the world's worst dog, but Marley inspired this funny, wrenching and unforgettable work.

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-- Elizabeth Abbott

Mick: The Real Michael Collins, by Peter Hart, Viking, 485 pages, $39

Irish revolutionary leader Michael Collins's death during the country's Civil War set down the fault lines of 20th-century political life in Ireland. He died at 32, in an ambush in his home county of Cork, bringing anguish to Ireland, and a bitterness that has only recently softened. Peter Hart's enthralling study, relying only on documents in the public record, is meticulous, doggedly factual and minutely detailed. Going beyond heroic myths, Hart's account is so carefully considered, so detailed and so nuanced, that a final delight will land on the reader only after the book is finished.

-- John Brady

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, Houghton Mifflin, 240 pages, $26.95

A brilliant graphic memoir of a young girl's coming of age in the faded grandeur of a rural mansion. Fun Home is as much about Bechdel's complex relationship with her eccentric, aesthetic, mortician father -- a closeted homosexual and apparent suicide -- as it is about her own adolescence and coming out. In black-and-white panels with green wash, wryly observed non-linear episodes explore the father-daughter dynamic. The book invites comparison to Persepolis, but it is more complex and nuanced, emotionally, narratively and artistically.

-- Nathalie Atkinson

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My Heart is Africa: A Flying Adventure, by Scott Griffin, Thomas Allen, 272 pages, $26.95

Margaret Atwood calls Scott Griffin, known for his sponsorship of poetry's Griffin Prize and his purchase of House of Anansi Press, "one of the great romantics," an intoxicating blend of charm, bravado, optimism and idealism. Wanting to make a difference, Griffin joins the Flying Doctors Service of East Africa. My Heart is Africa is a gripping account in the hands of a natural storyteller of two and a half years and thousands of miles flown in his own single-engine Cessna 180. It is also a love story: of a plane, of flying, of a woman (Griffin's wife Krystyne), of a continent.

-- Camilla Gibb

Of This Earth: A Mennonite Boyhood in the Boreal Forest, by Rudy Wiebe, Knopf Canada, 416 pages, $32.95

Rudy Wiebe's hardscrabble memoir of a disappearing time and place is a remarkable insider's view of Canada's own Grapes of Wrath-like internal migration during the Dirty Thirties, and the way it transformed a "bush-farm bumpkin" into Western Canada's iconic novelist. Using family snapshots and the diary begun by his beloved, chronically ill sister, he reveals himself to be a first-rate investigator of domestic history. Underlying his chronicle of the growth of a family and the decline of a way of life, there's more than a little of W. G. Sebald's transcendent sense of the power of history, and much of his melancholy.

-- T. F. Rigelhof

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Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass, by Natalie MacLean, Doubleday Canada, 279 pages, $29.95

Natalie MacLean delivers clarity and taut, crisp prose, and offers amusing, unique and plausible metaphors. Her numerous interviews with noted wine folk unfold with space for the subject's thoughts and personality. And how can one not enjoy a book that recounts an early wine-sotted romance and marriage, and then immediately begins in Burgundy? Revel. Imbibe. Hector. Seduce. Should MacLean do more of it in her next book, it will soar as a Canadian wine book never has. As for this first one -- well, there is little that has been as cosmopolitan or as pleasantly complete.

-- Geoff Heinricks

Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell, by Charlotte Gray, HarperCollins, 467 pages, $36.95

Charlotte Gray's life of the great inventor is a human rather than a technical biography. Her focus is on Bell's personal life, particularly his 39-year marriage to Mabel Hubbard, deaf daughter of a wealthy Boston family, who provided the good sense and stability that prevented the flighty, unstable Bell from self-destructing. With insight and grace, Gray, aided by an incredible wealth of documents, details the couple's progression from youth through parenthood to old age in a rapidly changing world. This is not only a fascinating tale about an important inventor, but a good story about lives well lived.

-- Stephen R. Bown

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Causeway: A Passage From

Innocence, by Linden MacIntyre,

HarperCollins, 361 pages, $34.95

Linden MacIntyre's Cape Breton memoir is full of delightful, poignant recollections of a boy watching a mountain disappear into the Strait of Canso, as it is transformed into a causeway. It is emotionally moving, full of sadness and humour. But more than a historical memoir of Gaelic-speaking refugees in a new country, Causeway is like a set of lessons on how to write a memoir. MacIntyre creates a narrative voice, an amalgam of innocent boy and experienced adult. His skill at developing live characters, creating efficient, believable dialogue and his judicious use of metaphor enable him to reveal "the stain [that is]part of that hard place beneath the gravel of memory."

-- Sheldon Currie

Bay of Spirits: A Love Story, by Farley Mowat, McClelland & Stewart, 320 pages, $34.99

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Mowat's beautiful memoir is a return to his time in outport Newfoundland in the years after Confederation in 1949. Premier Joey Smallwood's resettlement program was an effort to convert Newfoundlanders to "the way of the future." Mowat recounts a series of rollicking nautical adventures set against this epoch of painful cultural change. His tribute to the convivial "baymen" has the flavour of the best cultural anthropology, and is written with clarity and compassion. Although this is also a story about Mowat's love for his wife, Claire, it's strongest as a vivid picture of a man and his love for a lost place and time, told by a wonderful raconteur.

-- Alison Pick

Citizen of the World: The Life of

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Volume One: 1919-1968, by John English, Knopf Canada, 568 pages, $39.95

The first biographer with unrestricted access to Trudeau's personal papers, John English has written a life that is thorough, revealing and sympathetic. He has used his material masterfully, illuminating corners of the life, challenging mythology, untangling inconsistency, clarifying complexity. This first of a projected two volumes takes Trudeau only to 1968. Only as prime minister does he become the person we know: the strongman who slays the secessionists, the phoenix who rises from the political dead, the lawgiver who brings home the Constitution and brings down the Charter of Rights. All lie in the next volume. Pierre Trudeau isn't through yet, and, happily, neither is John English.

-- Andrew Cohen

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Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook,

Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, by Bill Buford, Doubleday Canada, 320 pages, $32.95

Bill Buford's brilliant memoir is the story of how an amateur foodie becomes educated. On his journey through the sadistic world of master chefs, Buford learns to cook. And because he's a reader and a writer first, he also turns up the roots and traditions of what he's learning. Heat is a trove of fascinating history. Buford traces Italian cooking back to Latin times, sourcing recipes and trying to figure out who was the first man to put an egg into his pasta dough. "I didn't want to be a chef: just a cook," he writes. Heat will likely convince most readers that that's all they'll have a stomach for, too, but sharing Buford's table talk is a pleasure not to be passed up.

-- Michael Redhill

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An

Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of

Evolution, by David Quammen,

Atlas/ Norton, 304 pages, $30

As David Quammen notes in his brilliant and timely biography of the father of evolution', Darwinism doesn't deny the existence of God, it simply "challenges the supposed godliness of Man," the idea that Homo sapiens, unlike, say, barnacles, have souls and so are exempt from natural law. "Darwin," Quammen writes, "was a man of great integrity, great goodness, deep generosity, and considerable courage." He died without knowing the full impact of his great idea. Its impact is still being felt today, and Quammen's brief but immeasurably rich portrait takes us a long way toward appreciating its enduring significance.

-- Wayne Grady

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six

Million, by Daniel Mendelsohn, HarperCollins, 512 pages, $34.95

In this remarkable book, classicist Daniel Mendelsohn sets out to recreate the world of his great uncle, Shmiel Jäger, who lived in Polish Ukraine and disappeared in the Holocaust. For Mendelsohn, Shmiel, along with his wife Ester and four daughters, takes on a ghostly significance. Eventually, he goes in search. The compelling account of that search provides the basic structure, but it is the reflections on memory, family and the human condition that give the book its multidimensional power.

-- Modris Eksteins

Sixtyfive Roses: A Sister's Memoir, by Heather Summerhayes Cariou, McArthur & Company, 436 pages, $29.95

A beautifully written account of the effects on a family of a child's illness, in this case author Heather Summerhayes Cariou's beloved sister Pam, who suffered from cystic fibrosis. This is the story of how the family coped and the author put much of her life on hold. In the end, it all mattered: Pam, 26, became one of the oldest CF survivors, passing away gently with her family encircling her bed. She lives on in Cariou's book, not as a victim but as a feisty, fun-loving, formidable woman. Sixtyfive Roses is a love letter, a thank-you note, a defence, a plea, a setting straight, a reaching out.

-- Paula Todd

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson, Doubleday Canada, 270 pages, $32.95

Bill Bryson has made himself a literary lion by wandering the world and filtering his experiences through what may be the sharpest and least jaded pair of eyes in the travel-writing game. Nor does it hurt that he's incapable of writing a dull or graceless sentence. Here, he applies these gifts to a memoir of his early life in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950s. Bryson zaps his story with about a million kilowatts of affectionate comic energy. The Thunderbolt Kid, for example, is Bryson's superhero self, who pops up periodically to dispatch this or that local nemesis. By the end, he has you wishing you'd grown up in Des Moines in the 1950s yourself.

-- Bruce McCall

The Letters of Stephen Leacock, edited by David Staines with

Barbara Nimmo, Oxford University Press, 564 pages, $39.95

Stephen Leacock's letters, meticulously edited by David Staines, show how professional he was about his writing, and how he never felt his publishers were doing enough. He complains about their slowness in getting his books out and worries whether his royalties are being properly accounted for. Indeed, there are far more letters here to his publishers than to anyone else. There are none to his first wife and very few to his son. These letters by one of our national treasures were not intended for publication, and they have both the charm of immediacy and the accompanying lack of polish.

-- Margaret MacMillan

SCIENCE AND NATURE

Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning, by George Monbiot, Doubleday Canada, 277 pages, $29.95

The average Canadian now makes 19 tonnes of carbon a year. According to British journalist George Monbiot, the sustainable limit for a healthy biosphere is probably 1.2 tonnes per capita. Eviscerating the arguments of the global-warming deniers and offering radical suggestions for averting catastrophe, Heat is uncompromising. Monbiot recognizes our dissonance. What oil executive wants to think of his legitimate business as a biological killing machine? How does one deal with a tropical species that has colonized the planet and seeks to establish equatorial climes everywhere? Monbiot doesn't have an answer. But he does show there is better road than denial and a smarter vehicle than hedonism.

-- Andrew Nikiforuk

The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back -- and How We Can Still Save Humanity, by James Lovelock, Penguin, 177 pages, $35

At 86, and with his Gaia system recognized by scientists worldwide, James Lovelock says we have overloaded the system with atmospheric carbon, and are at the point of irreversible breakdown; the evidence of hurricanes, melting ice and drought is all around us. He sees possible salvation not in wind power and solar energy (too costly and quantitatively inadequate), but in nuclear energy, which he claims is 40 times safer than any other major source. If we succeed in kicking the carbon habit, The Revenge of Gaia may be looked back upon as a seminal book of the century.

-- Alan W. Scarth

The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, by E. O. Wilson, Norton, 175 pages, $27.50

This little book by the prolific biologist, naturalist, environmentalist and humanist is a deeply religious memoir and testament about how Wilson found salvation. The Creation, written in the form of a letter to a mythical Southern Baptist pastor, is about Wilson's love of living things, small and great, beautiful and ugly. It is also a sermon, urging us to join him in his "biophilia." The work is also a moral cry, warning that we are rapidly exhausting Earth's bounty, and before long we shall live in total desolation.

-- Michael Ruse

Darwinism and Its Discontents,

by Michael Ruse, Cambridge

University Press, 316 pages, $35.95

Ruse brings his almost unparalleled grasp of things Darwinian to bear on the state of evolutionary thinking and the persisting appeal of Darwin, who would have loved him for his rigour, balance, wit and companionability. A philosopher, Ruse sweeps over a huge terrain: biology, literature, paleontology, popular culture, statistics etc. He has the happy knack of being able to synthesize vast chunks of scholarship into manageable, yet demanding reportage. His defence of Darwin is as modest as it is relentless, and as balanced as it is uncompromising.

-- Allan C. Hutchinson

Pandemonium: Bird Flu, Mad Cow Disease, and Other Biological Plagues of the 21st Century, by

Andrew Nikiforuk, Viking Canada, 304 pages, $34

The "hidden microterrorists on our global doorstep" include avian flu, anthrax, mad-cow disease, SARS and other viruses, bacteria and prions. Andrew Nikiforuk catalogues the destruction some of these bugs have wrought. And he warns that we are woefully unprepared for when -- not if -- new pandemics appear. It's bracing, scary stuff. Nikiforuk, one of Canada's foremost writers of non-fiction, has made a career out of cataloguing uncomfortable truths. This is not a book for the faint of heart. After you finish it, you may never eat chicken again. You'll probably avoid hospitals. On the other hand, it might just save your life.

-- Alanna Mitchell

Theatre of the Mind: Raising the Curtain on Consciousness, by Jay Ingram. HarperCollins, 294 pages, $37.95

Science writer Jay Ingram calls consciousness "an immaterial thing," seeming to rule it outside the scope of science -- even as he details score upon score of scientific glimpses into it. So he turns to genuflect now and then toward the old masters, even as he marches away from them. Gradually, consciousness really does begin to look like the last remnant of an official mystery formerly packaged under the opaque heading of "the soul." As this mystery dissolves, it is replaced by a more complex picture of our musings, dreamings, rememberings, forgettings and wonderings. Ingram, as always, delivers the goods in a manner that is readily accessible -- and a lot of fun.

-- Jeffrey Foss

This Is Your Brain On Music: The

Science of a Human Obsession, by Daniel J. Levitin, Dutton, 256 pages, $32.50

Can science explain why we can't get a song out of our head? Daniel Levitin, who worked on records by Steely Dan and Chris Isaak, is director of the Levitin Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University, bringing a rare mixture of street and lab cred to this accessible and fascinating work on the cutting edge of music psychology. The book is full of fascinating tidbits: Babies have an innate preference for the same kind of music they heard in the womb; no culture divides the octave into more than 12 notes at a time. Levitin takes us to unexpected places in this blend of science, art and speculation.

-- David Rothenberg

The Weather Makers: How We are Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth, by Tim Flannery, HarperCollins, 357 pages, $34.95

Australian paleontologist Tim Flannery's highly critical and maddeningly important analysis of the globe's wacky carbon dictatorship will fuel dinner arguments, spark school debates and rudely challenge the deniers. Flannery's warning is blunt, simple and accurate: Business as usual will mean the inevitable collapse of civilization. He does think we can still prevent chaos with modest behavioural changes that won't send Homo economicus to bankruptcy court. If Stephen Harper, who loves his children, is looking for a reasoned and concise guide on weather making, he can't do better.

-- Andrew Nikiforuk

Field Notes from a Catastrophe, by Elizabeth Kolbert, Bloomsbury, 192 pages, $29.95

Elizabeth Kolbert travels the globe, mapping the effects of climate change. Her fly-on-the-wall account conveys the urgency of the problem, without being hysterical.The book began as a series of articles on climate change in The New Yorker, earning Kolbert the 2005 AAAS Science Journalism Award. She gets her facts straight and brings the science alive, as in her accounts of melting ice shelves. Kolbert set out to write a book that can be read by everyone, especially those who tend to flip past climate news. Field Notes is as much a travelogue of a planet in transition as a primer on climate change.

-- Hannah Hoag

Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd, by Karsten Heuer, McClelland & Stewart, 231 pages, $36.99

Adventurous and conscientious newlyweds Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison -- he a biologist, she a filmmaker -- accompany the annual migration of the endangered Porcupine herd of caribou. The journey takes them on foot from the herd's wintering territory, in the northern Yukon, west across mountains and tundra to the calving grounds on Alaska's north coast, then back to the Yukon: five months, some 2,500 kilometres. The idea was not just to travel with caribou but to "be caribou" -- to share their weather, their geography, their remoteness; to experience the life cycle and habits of these gracious and mysterious beasts. They succeed with bravura results.

-- Charles Wilkins

Bringing Back the Dodo:

Lessons in Natural and Unnatural History, by Wayne Grady,

McClelland & Stewart,

234 pages, $29.99

Wayne Grady's essays bring up momentous topics: the commonalities between humans and animals, the loss of biodiversity, the dangers of cloning. But however passionate he may be, his voice is never stentorian. He invites the reader into conversation, and offers in each essay not only his own ideas, but also a gathering of facts and resources that make it possible for readers to deepen their responses. In the culminating piece, the finest and most intimate of the essays, he reflects on both the territoriality of coyotes and a visit to his mother's hometown in Newfoundland. Grady wants the wild to be near to us and to teach us.

-- William Bryant Logan

Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert, Knopf Canada, 277 pages, $34.95

This is really a book about consciousness, an even more booming field than happiness studies. Gilbert, after all, is a scientist -- that is, if you think psychology is a science. Since happiness is subjective, there's no telling where it's likely to strike. Gilbert reports that cancer sufferers are actually more optimistic. The thrust of this engaging and clever book is our surprising ability to recover from trauma and disappointment. Gilbert is an amiable writer, with a penchant for comedy. But though the delivery may often be antic, the matter is serious. Reading this engaging, accessible book made me happy. Even if it won't last.

-- Martin Levin

HISTORY

A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945, edited and translated by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova, Knopf Canada, 416 pages, $39.95

Once a Communist Party intellectual apparatchik, Vasily Grossman eventually produced a work of Tolstoyan grandeur, Life and Fate, about the battle of Stalingrad. He was also a front-line war correspondent, cherished by Russian soldiers for telling their story with honesty, including Stalingrad and Kursk, and the march of the Red Army on Berlin. His was the first extensive report on a Nazi death camp, Treblinka. With help from Grossman's daughter and stepson, irrepressible British historian Antony Beevor has pieced together selections from Grossman's wartime notebooks and correspondence. It's a fascinating and rewarding compilation.

-- Modris Eksteins

Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World, by Stephen O'Shea,

Douglas & McIntyre,

411 pages, $35

Stephen O'Shea writes books in which he becomes part of the places where his history happened. His eye and his acute sense of place have produced great writing. This history is built around seven battles. He begins with Yarmuk, in 636, and the early conflicts of Islam, and ends with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the defence of Malta in 1565. Sea of Faith is beguiling even when the power of the writing sometimes overwhelms the subject. Others have journeyed through this past, and some of the same places. But O'Shea does it better, and more memorably.

-- Andrew Wheatcroft

Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution, by Simon Schama, Viking Canada, 478 pages, $36

Among academic historians, there are few better storytellers than Simon Schama. All his books are big in size and scope, filled with dramatic moments and intriguing personalities. Rough Crossings is classic Schamarama, the epic story the black Loyalists, African-American slaves who sided with the British in the American Revolution. He follows them to Nova Scotia after the war, and then to Sierra Leone in West Africa. It is a majestic, exciting, intercontinental odyssey worthy of Schama's panoramic treatment. This is narrative history at its most engaging.

-- James W. St. G. Walker

Nixon in China: The Week That Changed the World, by Margaret MacMillan, Viking Canada, 395 pages, $45

The momentous Nixon-Kissinger visit to China in 1972 is a compelling story, and Margaret MacMillan tells it with flair and force. She skillfully weaves back and forth between the visit, its larger complex origins in Chinese history and the charged context of U.S. politics. Her engaged yet poised tone brings a refreshing balance and historical detachment to figures who rarely receive either. In the haunted relationship between Nixon and Kissinger, MacMillan leaves no doubt that Nixon was the grand strategist, Kissinger the clever but instructed technician.

-- Roger Morris

The Immortal Game: A History of Chess or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our

Understanding of War, Art, Science, and the Human Brain, by David Shenk, Doubleday Canada, 326 pages, $34.95

This admirable book is above all a history, documenting the evolution of chess out of sixth-century India and Persia into the cafés of Europe and the parks of Toronto and New York. It is simultaneously a compelling analysis of the game, specifically of some dramatic matches and tournaments. It is also a memoir, with reflections on the author's return to chess in mid-life, and on his great-great-grandfather Samuel Rosenthal, one of the greatest chess tacticians. Most memorably, it is a bravura demonstration of storytelling.

-- Charles Wilkins

Thunderstruck, by Eric Larson, Crown, 463 pages, $34.95

Eric Larson's Thunderstruck features a metaphorical moral and social clash between inventor Guglielmo Marconi and murderer Dr. Hawley Crippen. Seamlessly melding the scientific and the sensational, his chronicle of the development of wireless communication is married to that of a personal disaster and public tragedy, the tale of the Italian inventor to that of the mild-mannered doctor with the heart of a killer. Thunderstruck is wonderfully entertaining, at once sad and exhilarating; the exhilaration of its headlong narrative sweep, the sadness of false promise and small lives.

-- Martin Levin

Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King, by Antonia Fraser, Doubleday Canada, 388 pages, $45

Antonia Fraser writes history that reads like a novel: She shapes and frames a narrative. The big picture is revealed in delightful complexity. Her judgment is balanced, intelligent. She has taken a fascinating slant, examining the charismatic and sexy Louis XIV (the Mick Jagger of kings) through the women he loved, from his mother, Queen Anne, to future loves both carnal and platonic. Fraser has made an important contribution toward understanding the Sun King.

-- Sandra Gulland

POLITICS

The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists, by Khaled Abou El Fadl, Harper San Francisco, 308 pages, $28.95

UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl wants to wrest control of the discourse on defining Muslims in the modern world away from the extremists. He traces Islamic extremism to the rise of the "puritan" Wahhabi state, precursor of Saudi Arabia. He shows that most acute differences between moderates and puritans are over democracy, human rights and women's rights, "modern" values that moderate Muslims have no problem reconciling with their tradition. Arguing for a more pluralistic, humanistic Islam, Abou El Fadl has made a contribution that should be widely distributed and deeply reflected upon.

-- Emran Qureshi

State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, by James Risen, Simon & Schuster, 240 pages, $36

James Risen's exposé of the Bush administration represents a profound hemorrhaging of information from the corridors of secret power in Washington. His revelations of new modes of domestic eavesdropping are worth the price of admission. But he's also the mouthpiece for a U.S. intelligence community anxious to unburden itself of the mistakes of the recent past. His many "Deep Throats" tell him, for instance, that the CIA had no useful intelligence sources on Iraq before the 2003 march to war. Something close to a rebellion from within.

-- Wesley Wark

Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond, by Pankaj Mishra, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 323 pages, $33.75

Indian journalist-novelist Pankaj Mishra, equally at ease with the intellectual traditions of East and West, understands those who leave their old economies only to be "abandoned on the threshold of a world in which they found they had, and could have, no place," as he does nations obliged to "join the modern world and find new identities." These preoccupations direct his travels in Asia. If, as he claims, the movement for one traveller at least was from "ignorance and prejudice to a measure of self-awareness and knowledge," then it might prove the same for readers. Great books, and great books only, can have that rare effect.

-- Charles Foran

In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq, by Nir Rosen, Free Press, 264 pages, $36

Nir Rosen, an American of Iraqi-Jewish descent, is fluent in the Arabic spoken in Iraq, which granted him not just access to the closed society of ordinary Iraqis, but also to their innermost thoughts. He was "embedded" with various army units, which showed him the iniquities being committed in the name of "freedom" and "democracy." Anyone who still believes that what has been happening in Iraq has any claim to rectitude, anyone who believes Iraqis support the occupation and anyone who believes it merits anything beyond our strongest condemnation, needs to read this book.

-- Paul William Roberts

Right Side Up: The Fall of Paul Martin and the Rise of Stephen Harper's New Conservatism, by Paul Wells, McClelland & Stewart, 336 pages, $34.99

To see a prime minister self-destruct in 25 months; to watch as the disdained upstart supplants the emperor, then begins taking the country in a new direction -- that is the stuff of opera, and Maclean's columnist Paul Wells structures Right Side Up like a libretto. The epic narrative of a struggle for national power turns into a cautionary tale of two duelists: Martin and Stephen Harper. This is a most readable book by one of the country's most original journalists. He did his homework, spoke to more members of the political class than anyone had, and provides a wealth of new information.

-- William Johnson

Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance, by Ian Buruma, Penguin Press, 278 pages, $32.50

On Nov. 2, 2004, Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutchman of Moroccan descent, murdered controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh on the streets of Amsterdam, then skewering a letter through van Gogh's chest calling for the destruction of Western civilization. Anglo-Dutch journalist Ian Buruma investigates the sources of this outrage, a riveting exploration of an event that has come to symbolize the problem of murderous Islamic radicalism in Europe. His treatment of Islamism is all the more damning for being subtle and nuanced, an exceptionally articulate discussion of this problem and a beautifully written portrait of a whole country that has no idea where it belongs.

-- Claire Berlinski

BELLES LETTRES

This is My Country, What's Yours?: A Literary Atlas of Canada, by Noah Richler, McClelland & Stewart, 475 pages, $37.99

Noah Richler follows different fiction writers to their sources in an effort to understand why and how they write what they do, but his book is more interesting for its commentary on our national character than for its literary analysis. It is genuine and sophisticated, funny, poignant and wise. Richler weaves the words of writers with sections from their fiction, along with their responses to his quest for Canada. The book is ultimately something of a conjurer's gift, and Richler a magician who pulls out of this crazy, battered beaver hat a flag and a map, a home and a history.

-- Aritha van Herk

Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides, translated by Anne Carson, New York Review Books, 312 pages, $26.95

Euripides interests us because his world and his way of presenting it so closely resemble the way we see ours. The gods are not quite dead in his plays, but they are disgraceful in their pettiness and indifference to our suffering. The plays themselves expose moral and ethical problems as insoluble as any in Job. Small wonder that a poet-seer-lorekeeper as steely as Anne Carson has picked four plays of Euripides. Her gnomic prefaces pierce to the inner meaning of each. These versions push Euripides toward, rather than away from us.

-- Dennis Duffy

The Library at Night, by Alberto Manguel, Knopf Canada, 373 pages, $35

At its heart, Alberto Manguel's book is a meditation on knowledge and memory, on the links between the two, on the limits of each. For Manguel, the library is the "emblem of man's power to act through thought," a "monument intended to defeat death." His great achievement is to yoke erudition to a world view that is supremely self-effacing. There is no overwriting, no pretense. Authors and bibliophiles are old friends, their stories told with the fluency that comes only from reading deeply and well.

-- Jessica Warner

The Tales of the Heike, translated by Burton Watson, edited by Haruo Shirane, Columbia University Press, 204 pages, $27.95

This example of the warrior tale is one of the great literary classics of Japan. There are furious battles in which even monks are warriors, and that involve remarkable feats of archery, rallying cries for martial attack, devastating brutality and the aftermath of war. Yet, for all the focus on battle, there are tender portraits of women. The tales are steeped in ideas of the impermanence of time, deadly sins of man, paths to wisdom, renunciation of the world, spiritual merit and rebirth. In these tales, even emperors, warriors and nuns write poetry that distills Buddhist wisdom.

-- Keith Garebian

IDEAS

The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, by Thomas Homer-Dixon, Knopf Canada, 429 pages, $37

Thomas Homer-Dixon sets himself three large tasks: an overview of catastrophic challenges facing us; to elaborate a general theory of social breakdown throughout history; and to suggest what we can do. Although his general theories of social breakdown are flawed, the book is by any measure an impressive achievement, thoughtful and thought-provoking. He identifies five "tectonic stresses" that might generate a social "earthquake": uneven population growth between rich and poor countries; the impending oil shortage; environmental degradation; global warming; and the growing economic instability and inequality generated by global capitalism.

-- Will Kymlicka

Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, by Jonathan Lear, Harvard University Press, 187 pages, $25.95

A sustained meditation on cultural collapse, a brilliant, moving discussion of what it means to lose sense of one's existence without losing hope that existence makes sense. Lear's meditation centres on Plenty Coups, the last great chief of the Crow Nation, who watched, and in many ways directed, the transition from a nomadic hunting culture to one confined to reservations. Lear argues that he exhibited a special version of courage, an ironic and transcendental courage in the form of radical hope. His account opens up meaning for anyone, anywhere, who lives in and thinks about his or her world.

-- Mark Kingwell

Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child, by Mary Gordon, Thomas Allen, 264 pages, $29.95

Gordon describes a program to foster empathy that she started in Toronto nearly 10 years ago. It involves having mothers bring their babies into classrooms for an hour a month during the school year, with a trained instructor present. It now runs in eight Canadian provinces and has been taken by 68,000 children. We hear a good deal about emotional intelligence. Gordon's brilliant idea is one of the first to show how it might be learned. Her program is closely in tune with how we Canadians think of ourselves. It's a bold and wonderful idea.

-- Keith Oatley

ARCHITECTURE AND

URBAN AFFAIRS

Nearest Thing To Heaven: The Empire State Building and American Dreams, by Mark Kingwell, Yale University Press, 256 pages, $32

Kingwell's evocative meditation on the world's most famous skyscraper always holds in clear view the grand composition of steel, stone and glass on Fifth Avenue, the mighty fact of it. Kingwell's manner is self-assured and calmly bright. Everything that has to do with the Empire State, the object of his passion, is enormously interesting to him. An episode featuring the building in the 1957 film An Affair to Remember provokes the richest appraisal I have ever read of Cary Grant. And no film historian, I suspect, has ever written better on King Kong or Andy Warhol's Empire.

-- John Bentley Mays

The Architecture of Happiness, by Alain de Botton, McClelland & Stewart, 280 pages, $34.99

Alain de Botton considers the connection between our feelings and the buildings in which we work, pray and live. He argues that they communicate standards of beauty and morality even when their architects (e.g. Le Corbusier), scorn such "romantic" goals. De Botton's books demand to be lingered over, not because the concepts are difficult but because they are rich and deep. If you are one of those exhilarated and dispirited in turn by your built environment, this book probably won't change your life, but it's guaranteed to sharpen your brain and eye.

-- Katherine Ashenburg

The New City: How the Crisis of Canada's Urban Centres is Reshaping the Nation, by John Lorinc, Penguin Canada, 378 pages, $26

Writing at a seminal moment in the growing debate about the role of Canada's big cities, Toronto journalist John Lorinc makes a strong case for the inevitable primacy of urban issues. He concedes that despite their often not-so-benign neglect, Canadian cities have by international comparison shown remarkable success. But he sees crisis ahead, in health care, treatment of the elderly, education, infrastructure, municipal finance, environmental quality, urban sprawl and more. What this important, well-researched book clearly demonstrates is that the cities are not going away. They are the future of the country.

-- Joe Berridge

CANADIAN FICTION

Inside, by Kenneth J. Harvey, Random House Canada, 288 pages, $29.95

There is no other writer like Ken Harvey, Canadian or otherwise. Inside is marvellous, strange, beautiful, sad, ugly, at times frustrating, but always utterly potent. A man named Myrden is released after 14 years in prison when DNA testing proves he is not linked to a murder. He collects $1-million in compensation and, in the dirt-poor town where he was born and raised, must reckon with a resentful wife, several tragic children and a granddaughter who holds what is left of his fragile heart.

-- Lisa Gabriele

Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing, edited by Donna Bailey Nurse, McClelland & Stewart, 379 pages, $29.99

Nurse's book includes 55 poems, short stories and excerpts from novels and memoirs by 29 black Canadian poets and writers. With its myriad reflections on home, family, place and identity, Revival will remind readers that we are all in some way moving and becoming, that we are all two things (at least) at once, and that we are not alone.

-- Patrick Lohier

Mean Boy, by Lynn Coady, Doubleday Canada, 385 pages, $29.95

Coady takes on both academe and the starry-eyed field of creative writing, playfully skewering the pretensions of universities and the promises of creativity as a learnable skill. The narrator of Coady's wry and witty novel is a student and would-be poet, Lawrence Campbell, who worships teacher and larger-than-life poet Jim Arsenault, self-proclaimed genius. Mean Boy is a tour de force.

-- Aritha van Herk

The Dodecahedron: Or a Frame for Frames, by Paul Glennon, Porcupine's Quill, 222 pages, $21.95

Academically minded readers could no doubt construct a three-dimensional, 12-sided object and plot the recurrences in Glennon's experimental novel, as he suggests, but even the most unobservant reader cannot miss the resonances and repetitions, nor their mesmerizing effect. The book is a strangely enchanting experience, as if one has been exposed to a codebook for dreams, an experience that is once intellectual and visceral.

-- Michael Redhill

Cease to Blush, by Billie Livingston, Random House Canada, 465 pages, $34.95

Provocative but wildly fun, Livingston's second novel opens with Vivian Callwood at her mother's funeral. Vivian is fiercely smart, but has spent an entire life at loggerheads with her dour feminist mom. After the funeral, Vivian discovers a trunk full of evidence that her mother's youth was most glamorously misspent: as a nightclub singer, a beatnik stripper and a Judy Exner-style moll for mobsters and politicians.

-- Cynthia Macdonald

Certainty, by Madeleine Thien, McClelland & Stewart, 312 pages, $32.99

Certainty gives voice to grief and the fear of death in an utterly fascinating manner, through close observation of the effects of the premature demise of a deeply loved young woman, Vancouver radio producer Gail Lim, on her partner and her father. This remarkable novel portrays admiration, vulnerability and the quest for wisdom in ways that show readers much about unselfishness.

-- T. F. Rigelhof

Scotch River, by Linda Little, Viking Canada, 327 pages, $30

Little has skillfully created a captivating story with fresh, original characters and a fictional world that feels real. The novel explores family and its power to maim its own, and the nature of belonging. Cass Hutt, rodeo rider and illiterate orphan, returns from the Prairies with an inherited land deed. He commences to find his inheritance and shake the place up, and discovers who he really is and what it means to call a place home.

-- Christy Ann Conlin

jPOD, by Douglas Coupland, Random House Canada, 517 pages, $34.95

Ethan Jarlewski and his five co-workers are "jPod," a team of software geeks working on an innovative game for a massive Vancouver video-design company. When the new head of marketing insists that Ethan and his crew "retroactively insert a charismatic cuddly turtle character" into the game, a classic situation is set up. Can Ethan's coterie of dysfunctional underdogs find enough focus to rise up and bite the hands that feed them?

-- T. F. Rigelhof

Piece of My Heart, by Peter Robinson, McClelland & Stewart, 378 pages, $34.99

In 1969, a murdered girl is discovered in a sleeping bag during the clean-up of a rock concert. DI Stanley Chadwick finds himself mired in the world of psychedelic rock and psychotropic drug-taking, a world guaranteed to irritate him. Meanwhile, the contemporary narrative, carried by series hero DCI Alan Banks, is jump-started by the discovery of a dead music journalist in a Yorkshire village. A well-orchestrated, mesmerizing, slow-mo collision of the past and present.

-- Mo Hayder

The Law of Dreams, by Peter Behrens, Anansi, 408 pages, $32.95

While Behrens does tell of an Irish farmer's journey through the devastation triggered by the potato blight in the mid-19th century, culminating in an Atlantic crossing to Quebec, his novel -- which has just won the Governor-General's Award -- is more concerned with the usual elemental business of fiction: character and destiny, memory and death. It is a testament to Behrens's honed craft and seasoned philosophy that he does not grant a sentimental inch.

-- Charles Foran

The Hour of Bad Decisions, by Russell Wangersky, Coteau, 254 pages, $18.95

While the 17 stories in The Hour of Bad Decisions provide a literary tour of the Atlantic Coast, Wangersky is at his best when describing smaller landscapes, which work to connect the reader with the vast interior landscapes of the characters and their relationships with others. These are mature, deeply satisfying stories: Despite all manner of intriguing avoidance techniques, the characters never try to escape responsibility for their bad decisions.

-- Sarah Dearing

Difficulty at the Beginning, Books 1-4, by Keith Maillard, Brindle & Glass, 1,040 pages, $14.95/$22.95

In this massive, four-volume novel, based on two early Maillard works, John Dupre starts out as a complicated, tortured young man in Raysburg, Va., drunk on language and literature, and tormented by desire and madness. By the fourth volume, Dupre, who had been in Canada to avoid the draft, is living under an assumed name in Boston, writing for an underground paper and trying to unravel the tangled threads of his sexuality. This is a work of terrible beauty and grace, a masterpiece fit to contend with the best novels of the last century.

-- Tom Sandborn

Before I Wake, by Robert J. Wiersema, Random House Canada, 384 pages, $32.95

In Wiersema's literary, supernatural thriller, a hit-and-run accident leaves a three-year-old girl comatose. When it becomes clear that Sherry will never wake up, her parents agree to have her removed from life support. But Sherry doesn't die. She doesn't wake up, either. She hovers in a state of limbo, warm to the touch but still comatose. Once she is back home, something strange begins to happen: Everyone who comes into contact with her is miraculously healed of illness. Unique, spellbinding and ultimately uplifting.

-- Joanna Goodman

What it Takes to Be Human, by Marilyn Bowering, Penguin Canada, 289 pages, $26

Bowering tells how a young man retains his sanity in a universe gone mad. Sandy Grey, the narrator, is incarcerated in a B.C. asylum during the Second World War for beating his father with a tire iron. Ultimately, to remain human, Sandy must hope for love. All the strands Bowering dangles out there courageously, ambitiously, begin to braid themselves when the reader needs them to. The novel is confident and assured: Bowering does not seek moments to be brilliant; those moments just arrive,

-- Almeda Glenn Miller

The Penguin Book of Contemporary Canadian Women's Short Stories, edited by Lisa Moore, Penguin Canada, 363 pages, $32

These stories have beginnings, middles and ends, and they're about worlds we know and characters we recognize, often to devastating effect. This collection is a study in how very much writers can accomplish against the formal limits a short story imposes. This dazzling sample of a literature in its prime includes stories not only by stalwarts such as Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Carol Shields and Margaret Atwood, but also Zsuzsi Gartner, Ramona Dearing, Camilla Gibb and Annabel Lyon.

-- Joan Thomas

Pleased To Meet You, by Caroline Adderson, Thomas Allen, 204 pages, $24.95

In Adderson's first collection, 1993's Bad Imaginings, curious, confused and angry children and disappointed, damaged adults move awkwardly through their relationships. Though specific characters don't reappear here, it's as if the kids of the first collection have grown up into the damaged and disappointed adults of the second. The collection also exhibits the strengths of first: Wit and a facility for dialogue, good pacing and a brisk, clean prose style, to go with Adderson's empathy and toughness, her ear for oddness and her willingness to lean on ideas to test their give.

-- Karen Solie

The View from Castle Rock, by Alice Munro, McClelland & Stewart, 349 pages, $34.99

A collection of short stories that reads much like a novel, presenting a kind of patchwork of fictional impressions of Munro's lengthy exploration of her father's side of the family. Piecing together facts she unearths with fictions she invents, Munro writes about this past from different points of view, with her customary tendency to linger, like a local historian, on details of place. She has, as usual, written a lovely book and is serenely well-honed in her craft.

-- Lydia Millet

Home Schooling, by Carol Windley, Cormorant, 218 pages, $22.95

Home Schooling is as delicate as it is intelligent. The eight stories have common elements, uniquely rendered, such as the utter unreliability of memory, unattainable or fleeting happiness, death and dying, May-December romances, second and third chances, shadowy pasts that lend an inner strength to secret-coveting characters, a slow unfolding of key revelations, and just enough references to classic literature to keep a reader sharp.

-- Carla Lucchetta

Doubting Yourself to the Bone, by Thomas Trofimuk, Cormorant, 255 pages, $22.95

Trofimuk's novel delves carefully into family formation and disintegration, moving back and forth in time to reveal the acute emotions of Ronin Bruce, his wife Moira and their two daughters, as they attempt to form and reform their lives. The everyday detail Trofimuk infuses into his fiction makes for a realistic portrayal of family life, friendship and regeneration. Even when characters veer toward the unusual, he achieves verisimilitude, and his flair with prose is luxurious.

-- Candace Fertile

The Friends of Meager Fortune, by David Adams Richards, Doubleday Canada, 366 pages, $35.95

Owen Jameson, scion of a New Brunswick lumbering family, determines to cut and haul a stand of trees like no other, from Good Friday Mountain, harsh and desolate terrain. But while the camp on the mountain faces physical challenges, the townsfolk exercise opinion, hearsay and mudslinging, putting lives as much at risk as any chasm. While the town's petty tyrannies and vicious gossip give the novel a political dimension, the story is most profoundly moving in its depiction of loggers and logging. The way they live, the work they do, and their unsung contributions to the larger world are breathtakingly beautiful.

-- Aritha van Herk

Charles the Bold, by Yves Beauchemin, translated by Wayne Grady, McClelland & Stewart, 360 pages, $34.99

Beauchemin's enchanting novel brings to life an indomitable child who survives and prospers despite his rough childhood. Volume one in a trilogy-to-be of Charles Thibodeau's life follows him from birth to the age of 10 in Montreal's East End. During this decade, he loses his mother when he is 4, and suffers the indifference and violence of his father and the attentions of a pederast. Charles's life may be turbulent, but it's also magical.

-- Elizabeth Johnston

Empress of Asia, by Adam Lewis Schroeder, Raincoast, 409 pages, $29.95

Empress of Asia is a surefire winner. It's got historical relevance (set during the Japanese invasion of Singapore in the Second World War), dramatic suffering (Japanese internment camps, where Australians, British and others wait to die or be freed), a love story (Lily Brown and Harry Winslow meet and marry in less than 24 hours) and a terrifically funny but dark and confused narrator, who takes the reader on a whirlwind adventure.

-- Michelle Berry

Zero Gravity, by Sharon English, Porcupine's Quill, 182 pages, $22.95

The characters in English's second collection have grown up from those in her first collection, Uncomfortably Numb, but they exhibit many of the same qualities of confusion and displacement. English has a strong sensibility, and while she can see the faults of her characters, she is always sympathetic to them. The stories are suffused with a gentleness about human failings and an understanding of human need. Frailty, desire and need are perceived as part of the human package.

-- Candace Fertile

Gargoyles, by Bill Gaston, Anansi, 251 pages, $29.95

In these admirable stories, Gaston creates characters who are alive to their own distress. He makes their bizarre behaviour meaningful without being over-explicit, and in doing so he makes each story operate on both a small scale and a grand scale. The strongest are family stories in which the characters are desperately trying to figure out what to do. Gaston's endings often have uncanny grace, a light, precise, ambiguous touch that widens the story mysteriously.

-- Elizabeth Hay

Lullabies for Little Criminals, by Heather O'Neill, Harper Perennial, 330 pages, $17.50

O'Neill's first novel is a gorgeous book about how the kingdom of the imagination transforms a persecuted life into something magical. The writing is rich and full of images that will affect your breathing, though O'Neill remains faithful to the limitations of her 12-, then 13-year-old narrator, Baby, who lives with her junkie father. There are only 15 years between them and the roles of parent and child are indistinct. Despite descriptions of prostitution, heroin use, violence and sex, this is not a racy book. It's a bedtime story for the moment when you put your own childhood to bed.

-- Christine Pountney

FOREIGN FICTION

Old Filth, by Jane Gardam, Abacus, 257 pages, $16

Old Filth, formerly just Filth (Failed in London Try Hong Kong), a.k.a. Sir Edward Feathers, is a very successful lawyer and judge whose life seems to outsiders to have been a succession of triumphs. But Filth has led a much more complex and eventful life than is supposed. Gardam gives us a man of many parts, and secret parts. Old Filth is a victim of empire, emotionally and psychologically hamstrung, though entirely decent.

-- Martin Levin

The Secret River, by Kate

Grenville, HarperCollins,

334 pages, $32.95

Through the lives of the family of William Thornhill, his wife Sal and their two young children, Grenville delivers a novel that goes to the heart of Australia's settling by British convicts and their uneasy relationship with the aboriginals of that raw, sun-scorched island. She masterfully creates three distinct, believable worlds: down-and-out London in the 1790s; Sydney, Australia, in its first rough days; and a 100-acre freehold surrounded by untamed bush.

-- Mark Frutkin

The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters, Virago, 440 pages, $39

In her fourth novel, Waters moves bravely out of the 19th century to the 1940s, and away from a compulsive linear narrative toward something subtler and more low-key. It turns out that in its mortal dangers and urban chaos, London in and after the Blitz has much in common with its Victorian predecessor. The Night Watch is an exquisitely written story of wartime London, an evocative study of a knot of complicated lives.

-- Emma Donoghue

The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai, Penguin Canada, 324 pages, $22

This second novel from a brave new talent won this year's coveted Man Booker Prize. Desai takes us to the mid-1980s, to the Himalayas, where members of the Nepali refugee community are fomenting insurgency. Her prose style is exuberant, sometimes lush, full of arresting images and frequently playful, and the ideas and information are densely packed. The buoyancy of her writing is a large part of its charm; a jaunty spirit permeates characters and plot.

-- Marianne Ackerman

Suite Française, by Irène Némirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith, Knopf Canada, 395 pages, $34.95

If you read only one novel this year, read this one. It's miraculous for the power, brilliance and beauty of the writing even though, before Némirovsky could finish, she and her husband were deported to Auschwitz from the French village where they had taken shelter. The two sections that she did complete relate the exodus from Paris by those fleeing the victorious Germans, and day-to-day life in a Nazi-occupied Burgundian village.

-- Janice Kulyk Keefer

Black Swan Green, by David

Mitchell, Knopf Canada,

294 pages, $29.95

Mitchell's fourth novel is warmly personal, funny and as matter-of-fact and grounded as his other books are enigmatic and lofty. Set in a small town in 1982 Worcestershire, it tells the story of an unusually canny and preternaturally articulate teenage boy as he navigates the treacherous shoals of his speech impediment and struggles for social belonging, an inconvenient impulse toward moral responsibility, and dawning awareness of his parents' hopeless marriage.

-- Lydia Millet

Poppy Shakespeare, by Clare Allan, Doubleday Canada, 341 pages, $32.95

In this stunning, riotously funny debut novel, Poppy Shakespeare walks into the Dorothy Fish day hospital, in North London, wearing a miniskirt and six-inch heels, declaring to anyone who will listen that she is stark raving sane and should be discharged. No one is listening, of course. Chief among the skeptics is the irreverent, working-class protagonist, known as "N." Allan pulls readers into the tale with electric dialogue, so alive it practically sparks off the page.

-- Elizabeth Ruth

Everyman, by Philip Roth, Houghton Mifflin, 182 pages, $31.95

Roth turns his attention to death, tracking the decline of a man, unnamed but intimately detailed, whose final years are spent in a melancholy funk as life sputters out to its inevitable lonely conclusion. A short, allegorical novel, Everyman amounts to an autopsy on eroticism, failed love and the American male. In place of the struggle between Good and Evil, Roth's Everyman faces the more prosaic battle between Good and Banal.

-- Dennis Bock

The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud, Knopf, 431 pages, $30

Following the lives of three friends -- thirtysomething, bookish, well-dressed and sexy -- Messud's novel is a satire about the intelligentsia of New York. Messud's characters are subtly and satisfyingly formed, believable, multifaceted and endearing, and her plot builds masterfully, with each delicate twist finely wrought.

-- Lisa Moore

So Many Ways to Begin, by Jon McGregor, Bloomsbury, 343 pages, $24.95

David Carter, born at the end of the Second World War, grows up in bombed-out Coventry. He becomes intensely interested in his elders' war relics, and eventually becomes a curator at the museum. On a trip to Aberdeen, he meets schoolgirl Eleanor, and after "rescuing" her from her family, marries her. In the hands of this most remarkable novelist, this straightforward story becomes one of notable power. This is a brilliant novel from a prodigious talent, wise beyond his years. It is elegant, understated, deeply moving and ultimately hopeful.

-- Ben McNally

Restless, by William Boyd, Random House Canada, 325 pages, $34.95

Boyd's tale of duplicities and multiplicities begins in 1976, when it emerges that Ruth Gilmartin's mother has led a largely fictitious life, the result of working as a British spy during the years leading up to 1941. The Sally Gilmartin of 1976, believing herself hunted by old enemies, gives her daughter a thick folder of information. Restless alternates between Ruth's life as a 28-year-old single mum in Oxford and Eva's journals; a wonderful and addictive book that brings Boyd into the exalted territory of Graham Greene and John le Carré.

-- Gale Zoë Garnett

Carry Me Down, by M. J. Hyland, HarperCollins, 334 pages, $22.95

Carry Me Down is a very fine book, and its half-daft 11-year-old narrator, John Egan, a truly memorable creation. The novel is his account of a crucial year in his life in a rural Irish cottage not far from Dublin, where he lives with his unemployed, angry and intellectually pretentious father, his now-needy, now-remote mother and his more controlling than loving grandmother. John feels certain that he is destined for greatness, owing to a self-proclaimed genius: an ability to tell when someone is lying -- although, in quasi-autistic fashion, he can't quite work out why people lie.

-- Martin Levin

Echo Park, by Michael Connelly, Little, Brown, 405 pages, $34.99

The 12th novel in the series featuring Los Angeles police detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, a loner, mostly without friends, mostly unsuccessful at relationships with women, at odds with authority and entirely committed to his work. Connelly is very good at depicting the orderly and frustrating search for truth in the overwhelming chaos of the city. Here, it involves the search for a brutal killer and Bosch's possible error in a cold case that still haunts him..

-- Lewis DeSoto

Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Knopf Canada, 433 pages, $32.95

This novel by Nigerian writer Adichie is about the birth of the Independent Republic of Biafra in the 1960s, and the war and starvation that soon brought Biafra to its knees. Adichie's novel is truly astonishing in scope, richly detailed and emotionally devastating, and with a large cast of characters. She is unflinching in her portrayal of despair, and shows her grasp of every strata of society. Half of a Yellow Sun is heart-breaking, graceful and lush, a commanding performance from a masterful novelist.

-- Lisa Moore

The Lay of the Land, by Richard Ford, Knopf Canada, 485 pages, $34.95

Frank Bascombe -- first met in The Sportswriter and reprised in Ford's Pulitzer Prize-winning Independence Day -- returns. The novel commences seven days before Thanksgiving, 2000, as chads are earnestly being scrutinized in Florida. The chief delight of the novel is its narrator's winning, pitch-perfect voice. Frank is an assured chauffeur who glides you smoothly through the New Jersey landscape, calling your attention to interesting views, passing on pertinent anthropological information about the inhabitants and playing the perfect raconteur.

-- Guy Vanderhaeghe

The Naming of the Dead, by Ian Rankin, Orion, 420 pages, $24.95

Rankin's 17th Inspector Rebus novel, and arguably his best, is an extraordinary tale that takes the crime genre to places it has never been. The action takes place around the G8 summit conference at Gleneagles in July, 2005, which offers Rebus more opportunities than ever to plant his scuffed shoes on sensitive toes. He gets in the faces of a Special Branch commander, a preacher turned city councillor, an arms dealer, an African diplomat, a lap dancer, a crime boss and his own chief constable. He even manages to upend one of President Bush's photo opportunities.

-- T. F. Rigelhof

POETRY

Liar, by Lynn Crosbie, Anansi, 149 pages, $18.95

Lynn Crosbie recollects her seven years of life with another poet, not in tranquillity, but with excoriating reproof. This depiction of a folie à deux is a book-length poem whose long lines and many words are accommodated by wide pages and small type. Remarkably little is said about sex, but a lot about everything else that can go wrong in the unmade beds of a romantic partnership. Throughout, Liar's energy is impressively sustained, the cadences assured, the line turns expert, the barbed images exact.

-- Fraser Sutherland

Momentary Dark: New Poems, by Margaret Avison, McClelland & Stewart, 91 pages, $17.99

Margaret Avison's work belongs to the line of great religious poetry from the Hebrew Bible to Rumi to George Herbert. Her poetry is prayer and praise. Though she's fully aware of human evils, and of how fragile are the shelters we build for ourselves, she doesn't wrestle with such perennial primary mysteries as why, for indiscernible purposes, a loving God makes His creatures suffer so abundantly -- and through no fault of their own. But with poetry of this quality, it would be churlish to complain.

-- Fraser Sutherland

Strike/Slip, by Don McKay, McClelland & Stewart, 78 pages, $17.99

This work from Don McKay is an astonishing exploration of a concern that has increasingly informed his poems and essays: how to live responsibly in relation to nature. He remains as joyously intoxicated as ever with the natural world, and committed to the fraught but necessary enterprise of paying homage to its inhabitants in language. He affirms the interconnectedness of all things in poems that argue gracefully for a passionate response to the world we inhabit.

-- Margo Wheaton

Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists, by a. rawlings, Coach House, 111 pages, $16.95

"A hoosh a ha." These not-quite-words float in the middle of a blank page. On the next page, "a hoosh a ha" is scattered five times. The last page of the section is nearly black with these onomatopoeic brushes of wings. Wide Slumber then moves through six sections that explore states of sleep in counterpoint with the life cycle of butterflies and moths. That juxtaposition is interesting enough, but rawlings's ability to reproduce the frankly copulative energy pulsing through both worlds is often breathtaking. This is one cool collection, a fresh combination of unashamedly brainy and unabashedly horny.

-- Sonnet l'Abbé

Airstream Land Yacht, by Ken Babstock, Anansi, 110 pages, $18.95

As Auden was to the English 1930s, Ken Babstock is to the Canadian 2000s: the key figure of the under-40s generation, around which other younger poets circle or swoon. Part of what makes Airstream Land Yacht perhaps the most important poetry book yet from any Canadian born in the 1970s or beyond is its verbal glee. Poet-critic Carmine Starnino has demanded that Canadian poetry be written in a style lucid, energetic and enlivened by a sense of tradition. Well finally, someone has.

-- Todd Swift

Inventory, by Dionne Brand, McClelland & Stewart, 100 pages, $17.99

War in the early 21st century streams through flickering yet persistent TV screens in Dionne Brand's book. Inventory pushes into intentional violence, staring at the seeming endlessness of humans' capacity to kill one another. Opening oneself to that capacity can lead to anger and numbness, which Brand explores. It is also a register of possible responses from those living at a geographic remove from the death-lists. The book is damning without being superior, sorrowful without falling into self-pity, joyful without becoming naive.

-- Meg Walker

Swithering, by Robin Robertson, Anansi, 85 pages, $18.95

Robin Robertson is a straight-ahead naturalist, coming simply to the task of capturing his subject, with the force and discipline of a master and the precision of a keen, fearless sensitivity that risks declaring: This has weight. His command of metaphor stuns. His simple language collides against itself in such sparks that the reader must nod, or sigh, at the immediacy of his images. Yet what sets him apart is his ability to capture, in longer pieces, strange, unmeasurable paces and the feel of vast, dark currents of energy, as in weather, or time.

-- Sonnet l'Abbé

The Anatomy of Keys, by Steven Price, Brick Books, 141 pages, $18

Steven Price, a young B.C. poet, has imaginatively recounted Houdini's life in a gripping volume that travels through a mind stricken by his parents' deaths to the point where the idea of escape becomes the driving image: the pilgrimage, the grail. It is a psyche that is always a part of a body, and a body always part of its own ending. This dark, compelling book may have you looking over your shoulder for something lurking in a dark corner. There is a poetic adroitness here so knowing that it often hits you only afterward how deliciously chosen each syllable has been.

-- Patrick Watson

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