The best books of win­ter

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Sur­vive the cold weather with these reads

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

From close-to-home Cana­di­ana to big-name debuts, from a swath of new trans­la­tions to books with sto­ries be­hind them, from deeper dives into news head­lines to ex­cit­ing reads for the kids, Becky Toyne rec­om­mends some ti­tles to keep you busy un­til spring


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 iden- tity 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.


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-artist­mu­si­cian Vivek Shraya.


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 Ica

rus Girl) Ginger­bread (Hamish Hamil­ton, March 5), a de­light­ful fam­ily yarn in which a fam­ily’s legacy is a recipe for that fairy­tale 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).


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 mar-

ket­ing 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 whowrote-it, se­cret-au­thor mys­ter­ies.

Trans­la­tions from Nordic coun­tries have long been big busi­ness in the English­language 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 Web­bCamp­bell’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.


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 Con- fine­ment. 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.


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 17year-old girl strad­dling cul­tures and strug­gling to live up to her Mus­lim par­ents’ ex­pec­ta­tions, es­pe­cially when she’s caught kiss­ing her girl­friend.


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 pic­ture­book 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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