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2020 Books of the Year

It's been a week since our 2020 Fiction: Books of the Year post went up, and it's been shared many, many times, with readers and writers celebrating our selections and reflecting on their own literary 2020.

Our list includes some excellent ideas for all the readers on your list, if you're still doing some last-ish minute shopping. (And check out our list of all your favourite indie bookstores in one place while you're at it!)

And do you know that we're giving away copies of every single title on the list?

From award-winners (How to Pronounce Knife) to booksellers' favourites (Aubrey McKee), critical darlings (Butter Honey Pig Bread, Brighten the Corner Where You Are), cult hits (Mexican Gothic), bestsellers (Songs for the End of the World, Indians on Vacation) and so much more, our list includes a little bit of everything.

Make sure you explore them all (and enter to win!).

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2020 Fiction: Books of the Year

If ever there was a year to get away (while staying right where you are) 2020 was the one, and this is why our Books of the Year list puts its focus on fiction.

These are the books that rose to the occasion of this most peculiar moment and helped us to escape for a while and to see the world a little more clearly at once.

Enter to win these amazing titles through our Books of the Year Giveaway Bonanza!

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Keepers of the Faith, by Shaukat Ajmeri

About the book: Keepers of the Faith is set within a small Muslim sect of India, ruled by an avaricious priesthood that demands absolute submission while enforcing archaic social customs. When a section of the community rebels, it is summarily excommunicated, shunned by friends and family and denied religious rites. The peaceful community is split into two.

The novel follows the fates of two blissful young lovers, Akbar and Rukhsana, in the historic city of Udaipur. When the communal split occurs, their families are on opposite sides; the lovers' dream of a happy life together is shattered, and they are forced into separate destinies. Akbar, from the rebel group, goes on to become a writer and family man in Mumbai, while Rukhsana gets married to an immigrant engineer from the United States fanatically devoted to the pries …

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Our Top Fiction of 2019

At 49th Shelf, this was the fiction that made our literary year. We're grateful to all of the authors who make our work—featuring amazing Canadian books—such a pleasure.

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Undercard, by David Albertyn

Albertyn says: "I wanted Undercard to have all the aspects of a great sports story, within the context of a great thriller. I wanted the outcome of a sports event to be integral to the outcome of a criminal plot. I wanted my four principal characters to be athletes, current or former, and the specific sport they each compete in helps define and develop who they come to be. I wanted a novel that was as riveting as the most furious boxing match, and as blood-thumping as the most daring revenge tale—one compounded on top of the other.

Read Albertyn's recommended reading list, "Story, Struggle and Sports"

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Days By Moonlight, by Andre Alexis

About the book: Almost a year to the date of his parents' death, botanist Alfred Homer, ever hopeful and constantly surprised, is invited on a road trip by his parents' friend Professor Morgan Bruno. Professor Bruno …

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2019 Poetry Splendour

Poetry advocate and community builder Vicki Ziegler recently put a call out on Twitter asking readers to share what poetry titles had helped make their literary year, and the response was so great that we wanted to share it. Let's celebrate the poetry splendour of 2019!

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Following Sea, by Lauren Carter

About the book: Spanning almost two hundred years, Following Sea finds anchor in the submerged regions of the heart. With great care, Lauren Carter wades into family histories and geography, all the while charting her own territories. Carried by the ebb and flow of language, Carter's second collection explores issues of infertility, identity, and settler migration, offering a tender examination of home. Urgent and intimate, Following Sea leads us along the shoreline of Carter's Manitoulin memories to show us what she has carried up from the depths.

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Dunk Tank, by Kayla Czaga

About the book: In the title poem of Kayla Czaga’s sophomore collection, a teenage speaker is suspended between knowledge and experience, confidently hovering there before the w …

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2018 Books of the Year: Nonfiction

Our celebration of 2018 books continues with this nonfiction spotlight, which includes stories from home and abroad, books about the past, the present, and the future, and something for every kind of reader going. We're so pleased to have featured these titles on 49th Shelf this year. 

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Homes: A Refugee Story, by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung

Homes is the remarkable true story of how a young boy emerged from a war zone—and found safety in Canada—with a passion for sharing his story and telling the world what is truly happening in Syria. As told to her by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah, writer Winnie Yeung has crafted a heartbreaking, hopeful, and urgently necessary book that provides a window into understanding Syria.” 

Read 11 Life Stories to Read This Spring

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Midnight Light, by Dave Bidini

“This is an absolute joy to read as his writing just flows, inspired, unencumbered, passionate, his joy at being there, his thrill of living loud, leaps off the page. He consumes it all, the edge of the world and the caravan of characters who populate it.“ …

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2018 Books of the Year: Fiction

While the reading never stops here at 49th Shelf, and our adherence to the calendar year is kind of loose, book-wise (because we do love a good reread, not to mention a good delve into an author's backlist), the final weeks of the annum and the lists that emerge during this time are also an excellent excuse to take stock of some beloved literary moments. It is no exaggeration to state that 2018 was an outstanding year in Canadian books, and we'll be celebrating some of our favourites over the coming weeks, beginning here with fiction and a list of some remarkable books that we featured this year.  

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The Boat People, by Sharon Bala

"A book about so many interconnecting themes requires a tremendous amount of research. I learned so much about Canada’s history, about the different waves of people who washed up on our shores, about refugee law, the Sri Lankan civil war, the Japanese internment, war-time propaganda, Alzheimer's, and PTSD…even menopause. But after the textbook research was through, once I had watched the documentaries, listened to interviews, and read research papers, then I turned with relief to literature. ”

Read Sharon Bala’s list of titles that her book seemed to be in conversation with.

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Books of the Year: For Young Readers

We turned to the experts to help come up with our books of the year for young readers, the experts including Dory Cerny (Books for Young People Editor, Quill and Quire), Helen Kubiw (CanLit for Little Canadians), Vikki VanSickle (Author and Marketing and Publicity Manager at Penguin Random House Canada), and Cameron Ray (Youth Services Librarian, Toronto Public Library). Their picks are divine. We hope you (and your young readers) love them. 

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A Boy Named Queen, by Sara Cassidy (Middle Grade)

Evelyn is both aghast and fascinated when a new boy comes to grade five and tells everyone his name is Queen. Queen wears shiny gym shorts and wants to organize a chess/environment club. His father plays weird loud music and has tattoos.

How will the class react? How will Evelyn?

Evelyn is an only child with a strict routine and an even stricter mother. And yet in her quiet way she notices things. She takes particular notice of this boy named Queen. The way the bullies don’t seem to faze him. The way he seems to live by his own rules. When it turns out that they take the same route home from school, Evelyn and Queen become friends, almost against Evelyn’s better judgment. She even finds Queen irritating at times. Why doesn’t he just shut up and stop attracting so much …

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2016: Our Books of the Year

2016 has been the year that demonstrated we need books more than ever—to ask questions, to make sense of the madness, to underline the importance of empathy, and to show us where we're going and where we've been.

That we've managed to come up with 21 of our favourite books suggests that 2016 wasn't so bad after all; certainly, the books have been terrific.

These are the books that, for us, have been standouts.

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Brown, by Kamal Al-Solaylee

"One of the things I set out to prove in Brown is how resistance to multiculturalism and the rise in nationalist politics in Europe and North America is largely code, and not a subtle one, for anti-Muslim sentiment. The religion has become “colourized” as that of brown and given the face of mysterious men and women hiding behind beards or heard scarves. I despair when commentators call these movements 'populist' and not 'far right' or 'racist.' We’re not willing to confront the xenophobia and pure racial animus at the heart of these movements so we direct attention to the “economically disenfranchised electorates” and hope that we won’t offend the racists among them."

Read Trevor Corkum's interview with Kamal Al-Solaylee.

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2015: Our Books of the Year

At 49th Shelf, list-making is an all-year-round concern, and a task we take very seriously. Which means that this Books of the Year list is one of the best you're going to find anywhere, expert-compiled with a mind to critically acclaimed titles that readers have loved.

We have added annotations springing from chats and posts we've enjoyed featuring the authors of these 13 books over the past year—please follow the links to learn more.

As ever, we remind you that a books list is only the beginning. Make sure to explore the whole site to discover more great books from this year, and all the years before it. 

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Undermajordomo Minor, by Patrick de Witt

Utterly original, hilarious, and beautiful, Undermajordomo Minor is both a black comedy of manners and an otherworldly love story. It's deWitt's follow-up to his hugely successful The Sisters Brothers, and it does not disappoint. We completely agree with this caution from The Independent: "The challenge for the reader is to resist the temptation to devour a novel which should be savoured."

Read more about Undermajordomo Minor and other weird and wonderful books in our Oddballs List

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2014: Our Books of the Year

You're probably already railing about the proliferation of year-end best-of lists cluttering up your social media feeds of late, but we promise you that this one is a little different from the rest. How? First, because list-making is not just a seasonal thing at 49th Shelf—we're dedicated to the task and do it all year round; we're book list experts. And second, because we've created this list by selecting critically acclaimed titles we know that readers have adored.

And just a note: this list is only the beginning of the huge number of fantastic Canadian titles that were published in 2014. Please do explore our site to find out about so many others, not to mention the great books that were published last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, etc.

We promise that you will never ever run out of great things to read. 

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Book Cover Between

Between, by Angie Adou

"The work of feminism is not done," notes Angie Adbou in her Q&A with us from September. "Of course our struggles in North America are not the same as the struggles of someone like Ligaya in the third world. Nonetheless, it is worth acknowledging that disparity exists here, too. I was pleased when Stacey May Fowles, in her Quill and Quire review, called Between a 'glaringly feminist narrative.'" 

Read our Q …

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