Books continue to be a lifeline for those looking to weather the emotional ebbs and flows of the present day, whether we want to learn more about what is shaping our world or escape into a fictional landscape.
Thankfully, the past year has provided a fine collection of fiction, non-fiction and more for readers of all ages — including some remarkable books about or set in our present-day pandemic. Here are some top picks from Free Press book reviewers — as we head into the holiday season, be sure to shop early (for yourself or others) to avoid any of the dreaded supply chain issues.
— Ben Sigurdson, literary editor
A Dream of a Woman
By Casey Plett
Casey Plett’s collection of linked short stories is structurally innovative and deeply humane. In it, she follows a number of trans women in their 30s, through their breakouts and breakdowns, as they attempt to settle into the lives they dream.
—Melanie Brannagan Frederiksen
A Ghost in the Throat
By Doireann Ní Ghríofa
Irish poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa uses detailed research and creative speculation to bring the 18th-century Irish lament The Keen for Art O’Leary to life in her first prose book, A Ghost in the Throat. Her seamless combination of poetry and prose enlightens and enchants. She weaves the ancient text with her own life in a text that is challenging and entertaining as it solves some mysteries and introduces others.
By Cedar Bowers
Cedar Bowers’ debut novel may remind readers of Winnipeg author Carol Shields’ 1993 Governor General prize-winning novel The Stone Diaries, in which the main character tells her own story in the third person, showing the impossibility of viewing yourself objectively. In a satisfying and unique storytelling method, Astra’s story is told by 10 of the people who come in and out of her life as she moves from girlhood to maturity. Through these encounters and others, Astra remains elusive and tantalizing to readers as a fascinating, sometimes unlikable but always sympathetic character.
Beautiful World, Where Are You
By Sally Rooney
Irish writer Sally Rooney’s third novel, after her highly successful Conversations with Friends and Normal People, offers more thoughtful insight into the lives of millennials, particularly two unmarried couples, who are not exactly sure if they can make the world a better place. Her combination of philosophical thought, authentic dialogue and appealing intimate scenes is a treat, relying on her command of the language rather than an overly inventive plot.
By Richard Powers
Longlisted for the National Book Award and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this novel of ideas deals with such urgent scientific issues as experimental neuroscience and environmental collapse but focuses, with tenderness and insight, on people, especially on the emotional bond between a struggling father and son. Powers can get awkward in his plotting, but his descriptive prose, whether he’s describing the smallest fungi or the vastness of the universe, is wondrous.
By Jonathan Franzen
A family of Protestant believers in suburban Chicago in 1971 is the subject of acclaimed U.S. novelist Jonathan Franzen’s tale of average people struggling for meaningful lives. But this just scrapes the surface of a story, told from multiple points of view, that involves youthful passion, adult betrayals, religious striving, drug addiction, mental illness and much else to boot. And, apparently, it is just the first volume of a planned trilogy.
By Randy Boyagoda
A theme park based on Dante’s Divine Comedy? Following the satirical and yet disturbing terrorist hell that Randy Boyagoda gave us in Original Prin (2018), the second installment, Dante’s Indiana, sends us to purgatory in the U.S. Rust Belt. With rollercoasters, self-branding and a therapist who advises Prin to "just let all life’s Billy goats pass by," Dante’s Indiana succeeds as a funny, unpredictable and occasionally moving tale.
By Lauren B. Davis
Set in Trenton and Princeton, N.J., this gripping novel explores forgiveness and redemption in a story dealing with lust, guilt and spiritual growth from the viewpoints of a nun and a privileged housewife. The plot revolves around the friendship between the two women until a tragedy ensues, altering the nature of their relationship. Davis’ keen ear for dialogue contributes much to the vignettes throughout the book.
—Bev Sandell Greenberg
By Miriam Toews
Narrated by nine-year-old Swiv, this feisty, funny novel deals with a slightly chaotic matriarchal household that holds three generations of unsinkable women. As Swiv wryly observes her harassed mother and irrepressible grandmother, regular Toews readers will recognize some recurring autobiographical elements, as well as the Manitoba-born writer’s knack for turning deep pain into human comedy.
The Girl From the Channel Islands
By Jenny Lecoat
A dramatic, tension-filled page turner, The Girl From the Channel Islands is a tale of bravery and survival. A young Jewish woman is trapped on the island of Jersey while it is occupied by the Germans during the Second World War. Based on a true story, it is riveting.
By Jeff VanderMeer
American sci-fi writer Jeff VanderMeer’s latest is a fast-paced, genre-defying head trip that takes readers into unexpected directions. It can be a little confusing at times, but there is a payoff. The narrative has a very stream-of-consciousness quality at times; it also feels like a psychedelic detective story, but without an actual detective — until the book’s final act, that is. If you’re already a fan of VanderMeer, this should be right up your alley. If you’ve been thinking about giving him a try, this would be a good place to start.
Letters Across the Sea
By Genevieve Graham
Fans of Genevieve Graham’s previous historical fiction works will likely enjoy this latest Second World War novel. Apart from a weak bit of romance, it contains well-researched, fascinating and important facets of Canadian history which actually took place in Toronto, Hong Kong and prisoner of war camps.
The Liquor Vicar
By Vince Ditrich
The former drummer and manager of Canadian band Spirit of the West has penned an energetic romp through a closet community on the Island, populated by well-drawn characters and strewn with more references to pop culture and euphemisms than you can shake a stick at. The first in a planned series, the adventure of accidental hero Tony Vicar is rich in detail, with an eye to make readers feel as if they are there with the book’s many eccentrics.
Little Bandaged Days
By Kyra Wilder
Little Bandaged Days is a novel about feeling the need to be perfect, the trauma of isolation and the danger of being unable to express your own needs. Mostly, it’s a heartbreaking look at the pressures and unspoken expectations of marriage and motherhood.
Milk Blood Heat
By Dantiel Montiz
The bold title addresses three key elements in this electrifying debut short story collection about loss pertaining to girls, women, families and love. Rife with intensity, these intergenerational tales portray brief defining moments in the lives of ordinary citizens in the cities and suburbs of Florida. Much to her credit, Dantiel Montiz has a passion for her characters that is palpable on the page.
—Bev Sandell Greenberg
By Adania Shibli, trans. Elisabeth Jaquette
The first of two linked short stories is chilling in its simplicity, describing the rape and murder of a Bedouin teenager by Israeli soldiers patrolling the Negev desert in 1949, a year after the establishment of the state of Israel. The narrative is pitiless, the narrator concerned with his daily ablutions than his humanity. In the overlapping second story, set 25 years later, a woman navigates her own perilous journey through a hostile, transformed environment to uncover the truth behind the crime. The shadow of the past haunts the present; the voiceless do call out long after they are gone.
By Andrée A. Michaud, trans. J.C. Sutcliffe
A 50-something retiree, Robert, flees Quebec, seeking refuge from the onerous obligations of society, hoping to find peace in a cabin on Mirror Lake, Maine. With a name like Mirror Lake, you know there will be depths you cannot see, and Michaud takes readers on a whirlwind trip into Robert’s psychological wonderland as he deals with upheavals in his life both real and fantastic. It is an entertaining and thought-provoking book by a talented Quebec writer.
My Heart is a Chainsaw
By Stephen Graham Jones
Much like the slasher killers for whom he shows such affection, prolific horror novelist Stephen Graham Jones is an unstoppable force of a writer. My Heart is a Chainsaw, a thrilling love letter to the slasher movie genre, is a smart and brooding novel with an engaging protagonist in the loner, slasher-obsessed Jade and more twists and reveals then even the most seasoned horror fan could expect. Not for the faint of heart, but not to be missed, either.
The Night Always Comes
By Willy Vlautin
Willy Vlautin doesn’t write feel-good stories, but there are few out there who write heartbreakers any better. His down-on-their-luck characters won’t give up, no matter what it costs them. The choices that protagonist Lynette makes in The Night Always Comes lead her to reckon with her own morals while repeatedly risking her safety. Despite her questionable decisions, or maybe because of them, the reader can’t help but route for Lynette through all the twists and turns. Set among the dark, wet streets of Portland, Ore., Vlautin’s latest is an engaging, empathetic northwest noir that grapples with the question of whether the American dream is achievable for anyone living and working on the margins.
By Terry Fallis
Canadian author Terry Fallis has written several bestsellers, and his latest tale is a pleasant and comic thrill-ride. Combining Canadian politics with international spy craft, a Member of Parliament and his colleague cleverly and hilariously outsmart a variety of foreign and domestic intelligence sources. The dynamic duo manages a mysterious MI6 agent, the Russians, CSIS, the RCMP, and a rather complicated form of office politics as they attempt to thwart an assassination plot.
Our Country Friends
By Gary Shteyngart
Too soon for a pandemic novel? Think again. With echoes of Chekhov, Gary Shteyngart’s moving and often-hilarious novel sees eight people, friends and relations of a moderately successful writer, retreat to his rural New York acreage hoping to ride out the pandemic, which lingers in the background. Friendships and relationships are complicated, tempers flare and wine flows as freely as the evocative prose. Heartfelt and hilarious, Our Country Friends is Shyteyngart’s best novel yet.
Out of Mind
By David Bergen
David Bergen has long been recognized for his spare, lean prose. His sculpted sentences are most often constituted via a remarkable alchemy: yearning, bleak stretches of absence, loneliness and pain become alloyed with a compassion and tenderness that seem first to emanate from a narrator’s oversight, but finally come to inhabit and inflect his characters as if these feelings were more truly their own. In his protagonist Lucille, the signature Bergen worldview — always evoked at eye level through characters in charged relation — has centred itself in his most memorable woman, in the most eminently readable of all his fictions to date.
By Michael Punke
The author of the novel The Revenant turns his attention to a carefully researched fictional examination of the U.S. Army’s worst defeat on the plains prior to the Little Bighorn, focusing on the tactical creativity of a young Crazy Horse as well as the hubris, blunders and in-fighting that hampered his uniformed foes.
State of Terror
By Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny
The former U.S. secretary of state and Canada’s pre-eminent author of murder mysteries have written a scintillating thriller about a terrorist plot to unleash nuclear weapons on the United States, as a secretary of state (allegedly fictional) desperately trots the globe to save the world. Features various conniving scoundrels in foreign places, and even viler traitors within American government, allegedly bearing no resemblance to persons living or dead.
By Katherena Vermette
From its opening pages, The Strangers speaks, starkly and eloquently, as if directly to its community of readers. Winnipeg author Katherena Vermette has an uncanny ear for the rhythm and the cadences of all her characters’ voices — internal, on the street or in jail, in a dark bar or at the dinner table in the family home. Always compelling, these voices are angry, sad, pained, loving, yearning, despairing — and occasionally hopeful.
The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu
By Tom Lin
When trained assassin Ming Tsu secretly marries Ada, daughter of a wealthy white racist, he soon finds himself beaten, enslaved and ravenous for revenge. Tsu’s quest takes him from Utah to California, a journey complicated by his encounters with a panoply of beings, including a blind prophet and the human miracles in a magic show. Set in the 1860s but richly resonant with present-day concerns, Ming Tsu’s story is meditative and propulsive, a page-turner that ponders the nature of time, space and memory. This bloody and beautiful reckoning is author Tom Lin’s unique and urgent debut.
A Sailor, A Chicken, An Incredible Voyage: The Seafaring Adventures of Guirec and Monique
By Guirec Soudée, trans. David Warriner
This tale of a 21-year-old Breton who, with his sidekick chicken, sailed 72,000 kilometres around the world between January 2014 and December 2018 is full of adventure, sheer terror, feel-good situations and not a little head shaking over the author’s fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants attitude to a journey so fraught with danger. There are times the reader wants to shout at the author for the risks he takes, but despite many setbacks, the plucky couple sailed around the world for five years, crossing the Atlantic, travelling to the North and South Poles, across to Cape Horn and back to the Caribbean and home. The journal format gives a sense of the mundane, the boredom, as well as the harrowing experiences of severe weather. It is a grand adventure on a shoestring budget.
The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War
By Craig Whitlock
Under the Freedom of Information Act, Craig Whitlock and the Washington Post obtained thousands of secret government interviews and reports on America’s conduct of the war in Afghanistan. For the families of soldiers from America, Canada and Europe who served in that war, this book would be painful but necessary reading. Although the American government soon realized it could not achieve its objectives, for 20 years it lied to the world about the calamity that was inexorably unfolding. "We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking," said a senior military advisor to both presidents Bush and Obama.
—John K. Collins
All About Me: My Remarkable Life in Show Business
By Mel Brooks
Comedic genius and entertainment polymath Mel Brooks’ autobiography, All About Me: My Remarkable Life in Show Business, combines the arrogance of its title with the engaging personality of its author to entertain, and give a serious — and seriously fun — look into the diverse avenues for comedy which Brooks has mastered.
Best Canadian Essays 2021
Edited by Bruce Whiteman
Reading essays might not be everyone’s idea of a good way of spending a quiet evening, but the topics of Best Canadian Essays might be an exception. In this volume, authors discuss topics ranging from childhood fishing trips to the Kremlin to coronavirus and ticks, with perspectives ranging from the personal to the academic. After discovering some of the insights in this collection, many readers will anxiously wait for next year’s edition.
Broken Ribs & Popcorn: How the Winnipeg Jets became the best team In the NHL’s most offensive era to not win the Stanley Cup
By Geoff Kirbyson
Three times in the 1980s the Winnipeg Jets looked like Stanley Cup contenders. Geoff Kirbyson describes those turbulent years after the WHA Jets joined the NHL in 1979 and the league gutted the team of its best players, forcing them to rebuild. But one thing never changes and never will: at this level hockey doesn’t attract people, it seduces them. When the Jets score, the 15,000 in the stands believe that their eagerness and loyalty helped propel that puck into the net. Books like Kirbyson’s pleasantly sugar-coat this delicious fantasy.
The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race
By Walter Isaacson
In his latest popular-science doorstopper, the accomplished American journalist and biographer Walter Isaacson details the discoveries that form the foundation of the coming bioscience revolution and which also led to the speedy development of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. A beach read this is not. But for those with sufficient curiosity and endurance, the book holds a fascinating and groundbreaking story.
Cruelly Yours, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark
By Cassandra Peterson
In her funny and revealing new memoir, Cassandra Peterson takes readers on a wild ride from her awkward childhood in Kansas and Colorado to her career as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, a pop culture icon who perfectly blended humour, sexiness and the macabre as a "horror host" on late-night cable TV in the 1980s. But as entertaining as the book is, it also has its dark side, as Peterson opens up about some troubling experiences with famous men, including Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones and, most notably, Wilt Chamberlain.
Dammed: The Politics of Loss and Survival in Anishinaabe Territory
By Brittany Luby
A history about the damming of the Winnipeg River, Dammed bears witness to the colonization, industrialization and degradation of Anishinaabe land, water and ways of being in the 19th and 20th centuries. As a treaty member to the territory, historian Brittany Luby draws the reader into how she thinks in systems and brilliantly uses settler greed and notions of progress as a means to surface the trans-systemic gaps between Indigenous and Eurocentric worldviews. This history is hyper-relevant and educative to any state-led desire to reconcile the exploitation of land, water and people.
The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics
By Tim Harford
Tim Harford’s The Data Detective teaches us to be skeptical and not rush to conclusions, which we can do by learning 10 rules on the use and abuse of statistics. If we follow these rules, we arm ourselves against misdirection. That is, by holding our emotions in check when drawing conclusions, asking what might be missing when examining research data, avoiding the lure of graphics and resisting the media hype when presented with statistics about medical advances, scientific findings and economic patterns. The Data Detective is both interesting and accessible.
Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest
By Suzanne Simard
For years, other writers have built careers parsing UBC scientist Suzanne Simard’s groundbreaking research on plant communication and intelligence. She was the first to prove that trees live in a "web of interdependence." But now she tells her own story, starting with her childhood in the rain forests of British Columbia and ending as a forest ecology prof in Vancouver. But the meat of this book revolves around two battles: first, when the results of experiments with trees as a masters and PhD student run counter to the established practices of the logging industry and second, when she learns she has breast cancer. But Finding the Mother Tree isn’t just a memoir: Simard walks readers through her research, step by step, then puts it in context.
Forever Young: A Memoir
By Hayley Mills
British actor Hayley Mills was a wildly popular child star of Disney movies in the 1960s. Her lively and warm-hearted new memoir perfectly captures those days with her parents — actor Sir John Mills and author Mary Hayley Bell — and the making of her most famous movies, The Parent Trap and Pollyanna. The book is a goldmine of background memories — her travels, her friends, the young men in her life — and it’s a perfect distraction from the pandemic.
"Indian" in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power
By Jody Wilson-Raybould
There aren’t many political books that leave you wanting to have coffee with the author; this is one of them. Raised to lead by consensus in the tradition of her Indigenous heritage, Jody Wilson-Raybould writes like she speaks – honestly, simply, intelligently. With feeling. Little wonder, then, that her stint as a Liberal cabinet minister (2015-19) left her disillusioned at the self-serving bureaucracy, autocratic governance and general inaction typical of the federal political system. With kitchen table candor, JW-R, now the independent Member of Parliament for Vancouver Granville, shares her story, including the political muck of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent
By Darren Bernhardt
In his quirky compilation of "lesser known" histories, local journalist Darren Bernhardt offers some surprising glimpses of Winnipeg’s past. Seventeen short chapters, richly illustrated with archival photos, include such subjects as mobsters, mini-golf, magicians and public bathrooms as well as a few brief critical glances at colonialism and racism. Attractively designed by Relish Branding, this book will change what you thought you knew about Winnipeg’s history.
Let’s Talk About Hard Things
By Anna Sale
As the host of the Death, Sex & Money podcast, American author Anna Sale switched media to write her first book about taboo topics. It’s incredibly uncomfortable in parts, sprinkled with "I feel seen" moments in others. A former journalist, Sale delves into death, sex, money, family and identity. (All that’s missing is religion.) Her observations and interviews are thoughtfully articulated, wonderfully messy and definitely worth talking about.
By Andrew Potter
In On Decline, Andrew Potter argues that our instinctive, emotional reactions which served us well when we were foragers and hunters living in dangerous environments are now being exploited by social media companies to short-circuit and supersede our higher-level and longer-term reasoning skills, undermining democracy in the process.
On Time and Water
By Andri Snaer Magnason, trans. Lytton Smith
Climate change is real, time isn’t on our side, but once again a recent international summit has failed to recognize the urgency. An alarming rate of glacier melt in his native Iceland prompts this well-known activist and author to add yet another existential danger to our planet.
By Rebecca Solnit
Not just another biography, Solnit gives us the author of Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm in a series of linked essays that engage his love of the natural world with his grimly focused worldly concerns. As the author sums him up, "The work he did is everyone’s job. It always was."
Pandemic Spotlight: Canadian Doctors at the Front of the COVID-19 Fight
By Ian Hanomansing
In Pandemic Spotlight, author Ian Hanomansing describes the dark side of public discourse at a time when nine infectious disease doctors give of themselves, gratis, to help people understand, and are met with vile reactions and horrendous name-calling by some. The book proves once more that the world includes what it always will — some very courageous people and some very ignorant ones.
Permanent Astonishment: A Memoir
By Tomson Highway
Cree author, playwright, and artist Tomson Highway beautifully shares his experience growing up in Northern Manitoba. He chronicles his early years, nestled in the cold landscape of the subarctic and in the warm security and love of his family. The nomadic and educative childhood is brought to an abrupt end when he and his younger sibling are forced to attend residential school. Exquisitely written and both hilarious and painful, Permanent Astonishment is a testament to the power of culture, language, family and the land.
Pluck: A Memoir of a Newfoundland Childhood and the Raucous, Terrible, Amazing Journey to Becoming a Novelist
By Donna Morrissey
A troubled childhood combined with tough family issues can be difficult to handle when they happen, but they make good material for a memoir. In Pluck, Donna Morrissey relates her journey: her childhood in Newfoundland, early struggles, marriage and motherhood and finally her writing career. Imagination, fortitude, pluck and metamorphosis are some of the themes of this very interesting book, an engaging account of the author’s ties to Newfoundland and her family in the context of her development as a writer.
This is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyber-Weapons Arms Race
By Nicole Perlroth
Nicole Perlroth explains why we should all be having nightmares about "zero-day bugs." Society relentlessly encourages us to plug more and more private residences, air traffic controls, banks, hospitals, electricity grids, hydro dams, pipelines and even cars into the internet, heedless of its vulnerability to government and criminal hackers. Low intensity cyber-war is already a reality. Individuals and governments are spied on daily and essential infrastructure, including health care, is frequently disrupted. Everybody has access to the latest weapon of mass destruction: the keyboard.
—John K. Collins
The Unconventional Nancy Ruth
By Ramona Lumpkin
Retired Canadian Senator Nancy Ruth is a compelling subject for this meticulously researched, very well-written and extremely honest biography by Dr. Ramona Lumpkin. The Honourable Nancy Ruth, who turns 80 next month, spent 12 years as a Senator, providing a powerful voice for equality rights, even re-writing Canada’s national anthem to make it gender neutral. As co-founder of the Canadian Woman’s Foundation, LEAF (Woman’s Legal Education and Action Fund) and the Charter of Rights Coalition, this excellent biography reveals how Ruth passionately and pragmatically pursued the advancement of economic and social justice for women and girls.
Vagabond: Venice Beach, Slab City and Points in Between
By Ceilidh Michelle
A tone of looming danger is set early in this memoir of a season spent amid the street punks, home bums, travelling kids, addicts, criminals and crazies of southern California. Author Ceilidh Michelle gives an unflinching and unsentimental look at a youthful four-month sojourn in a chaotic, squalid and violent scene.
Vignettes from My Life
By Tannis M. Richardson
One of Manitoba’s most prominent citizens has written a fascinating and candid memoir which is also an important read. Born in 1926, Tannis M. Richardson, CM, has an impeccable record as one of this province’s most generous and remarkable philanthropists. Her autobiographical Vignettes From My Life reveals a woman of great character and strength, charm and wit with a profusion of wisdom she is refreshingly happy to share with readers. All proceeds from this excellent memoir are being donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Warming Huts: A Decade + of Art and Architecture on Ice
Edited by Lawrence Bird, Peter Hargraves and Sharon Wohl
Celebrating Winnipeg’s much-loved Warming Huts competition, this book looks at the structures that have popped up on our frozen rivers since 2010, from the spiky beauty of Shelterbelt to the cuddly, mop-like Nuzzles, and at contributors that range from international starchitect Frank Gehry to students from Kelvin High School. Generously illustrated for coffee-table perusing, the book also contextualizes the Warming Huts project with essays that consider the Indigenous roots of the Forks site, explore Winnipeg’s history as a winter city and examine the ability of public art and architecture to engage, inform, delight and — of course — warm.
The Way of the Gardener: Lost in the Weeds Along the Camino de Santiago
By Lyndon Penner
This little volume shines a light on how a knowing gardener is well-equipped to interpret unknown places. Canadian Lyndon Penner reluctantly embarks upon the age-old Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across northern Spain. Typically, a pilgrimage unveils the traveller’s thoughts and feelings, and reveals truths unique to that person along the way. Penner recognizes familiar plants and discovers new ones; his reverence fortheir beauty, their medicinal powers and their stories is palpable. With his knowledge of botany, Penner discloses historical relationships between plants and people in this fascinating read.
We Are All Perfectly Fine: A Memoir of Love, Medicine, and Healing
By Jillian Horton
In this courageous memoir, a Winnipeg doctor tells why she almost gave up the profession she loves and what she learned about herself in the process of recovery.
World War C: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One
By Sanjay Gupta, MD
This is a well-crafted and user-friendly book for anyone who wants to be more informed about COVID-19. Dr. Sanjay Gupta deftly melds information about the science of vaccines and vaccinations with personal stories and observations, making for a mix at once informative and entertaining.
Boomers and even Gen-Xers will relate to some of the once-common social customs and devices that have vanished into memory as identified by Pamela Paul, the New York Times Book Review editor. This list includes time spent chatting on the family phone hung on the kitchen wall, picking up printed photos that were often terrible, and simply being alone and unreachable.
Paul highlights how greatly our society has changed due to the power of the Internet.
Quebec’s most admirable homicide cop Armand Gamache faces one of his deadliest foes yet — a villain wielding ideas, reprehensible ideas, about eugenics and culling our herd of the most vulnerable within Canadian society. All set in and around the familiar village of Three Pines and featuring Louise Penny’s usual beloved cast. Will murder and mystery ensue?
The second adventure of D.I. Matthew Vann brings murder to an idyllic small community in Devon and to the artists’ enclave run by his husband Jonathan. Could doctors behaving badly be part of the plot? Another superb character-driven Ann Cleeves wonderwork that will mesmerize readers.
A brilliantly clever and challenging mindbender from Horowitz, as the guilt of an immigrant labourer convicted of murder at a British society wedding could be overturned years later — but the clues lie in the pages of a book-within-the-book written by an unlikable hack who blatantly rips off Hercule Poirot. Two for the price of one, but you need to pay attention, serious attention.
Triny Finlay’s third collection of poetry is a sharply observed account of mental illness. The speaker’s illness, hospitalization and treatment are set against Finlay’s iterative rewriting of T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
—Melanie Brannagan Frederiksen
By Aminder Dhaliwal
In this modern take on the Cyclops, Canadian cartoonist Aminder Dhaliwal swaps the myth for the mundane as Cyclopedia Exotica explores issues of race, gender, disability and sexuality through present-day Cyclopes. As the one-eyed characters navigate a seemingly inclusive world in which they are still visibly different, Cyclopedia’s affecting narratives unfold via a series of loosely connected slice-of-life stories packed with wry satire, charming linework and pops of colour by Nikolas Ilic that are as fresh and surprising as Dhaliwal’s punchlines.
Multi-genre writer Hiromi Goto teamed up with Baltimore illustrator Ann Xu to tell the story of 76-year-old Kumiko, a Japanese widow who escapes the assisted living home her children have placed her in. She refuses to take their calls, but has a harder time evading Death’s shadow, which she picked up at the home. There is much to like here — how often is an older Japanese woman the main character of a story? how often do they get to be action heroes? — but Shadow Life’s subtitle tells you every thing you need to know about this book: “When Death comes too soon, fight dirty.”
The deluge of rain we’ve seen in B.C. recently brings special meaning to the title of this book, by Parisian writer and artist Eléonore Douspis. Pauline and Louie are gloomy when it’s raining outside until their father invites all their friends in to enjoy the waterlogged paradise. With digital artwork that is simple and effective, beginning readers and pre-schoolers will enjoy this fantasy, especially on a rainy day.
Vancouver author Caroline Adderson’s latest is one of the first books that mirror pandemic from a young person’s point of view. It does a great job of capturing the tremendous upheaval in their lives and yet the resiliency with which children have met the challenges. In this series of eight related stories which all take place in one apartment block across from a hospital, a boy rents out his dog so neighbours can go for a walk; a girl learns sign language so she can talk to a new tenant her own age. The characters solve problems, there’s a dad with depression, there’s a mom who needs cancer treatment. The young people deal with these tragedies as they work together. An inspirational book.
If you are seeking a book for pre-teens that’s as much fun for parents to read as for their children, try Travels in Cuba by Montreal author and illustrator Marie-Louise Gay and her husband, David Homel. This talented Montreal couple made their family vacation much more than just a holiday. They made it a time to explore, to meet locals, to learn about the history and culture of Cuba, all told here through the eyes of their 10-year-old son Charlie and his irrepressible brother Max, and all with Gay’s familiar quirky drawings that are amusing and clever.
Jessica Townsend probably had no premonition of the arrival of COVID-19 when she wrote this book. However her young adult novel, one of the Nevermoor series, deals with a virulent virus originating in animals which attacks a country and leads to isolation of its citizens. Featuring Morrigan Crow and the Wondrous Society — who confront the Unnimals who have been turned into predators by Hollowpox — it will be enjoyed by any who like a rip-roaring adventure that is a little close to home.
Northern Ontario author Erin Alladin involves a young person’s curiosity in her latest. She explores the many things children can learn outdoors: how some seeds can fly and how others may survive for thousands of years; how petals of some flowers are edible and how their colors and smells attract pollinators; why the smell of rain remains after a downpour. Both in forests and on city streets Alladin explains how different trees have different leaves and how soil is full of rich decomposed life that will nourish new seeds, all with child-friendly gouache pictures by Andrea Blick of Toronto.
When Elephants Listen with their Feet: Discover Extraordinary Animal Senses
By Emmanuelle Grundmann and Clemence Dupont
Did you know whales use magnetic north to plot their migrations? That cats use their whiskers to travel at night? That the largest octopus can flatten itself so it slips through a hole less than an inch wide? Any child who is curious about his senses, or those of animals, will enjoy When Elephants Listen with their Feet by French author Emmanuelle Grundmann and artist Clemence Dupont. Dupont’s artwork fills whole pages with brilliant colours, while Grunmann’s text is well researched and easy to read, with further information in an Index of Animals.
If you like a good survival book try Gary Paulsen’s latest, Gone to the Woods. Paulsen’s first best-selling novel, Hatchet, was about a boy left to fend for himself in the forest after he survives a plane crash. His life story continues here with a horrific account of his time aboard a tramp steamer on the way to the Philippines, confined to a windowless cell while recovering from chickenpox and having witnessed a terrible plane crash where the survivors were attacked by sharks. Readers may be inspired by the resilience and tenacity.