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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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Stranger, by David Bergen

"Stranger is an engrossing human exploration of displacement and inequality. . . . Bergen paints a dire reality that isn’t far off from the current state of affairs in the United States. Stranger feels like a caution, warning of the dangers of continued disunity and the growing rift from inequality.” —Toronto Star

Explore the Scotiabank Giller Longlist.

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Bearskin Diary, by Carol Daniels

"I believe Carol Daniels is one of the most important voices in Canadian and World Indigenous Literature today. Her novel Bearskin Diary follows Sandy as she reclaims her culture and her spirit after surviving the Sixties Scoop. I wasn't expecting this novel to be so fearless, but it is. I could not put this book down."

Recommended by Richard Van Camp in our feature "Indigenous Writers Recommend."

*

Becoming Lin, by Tricia Dower

"All the themes of the turbulent era of the 1960s & '70s are here: African American civil rights, Vietnam war resistance, the CIA's war against the resisters, sisterhood and the push for equal rights for women, new-age metaphysics, motivational psychology and the unraveling of a traditional marriage. With exacting prose and wonderfully realistic characterizations, the author unmasks the deep questions of faith and truth that exist within marriage."

Bookseller Barb Pope recommends Becoming Lin in our "Shelf Talkers" series. 

*

Experimental Film, by Gemma Files

"Winning the Shirley Jackson Award was incredible, not least because I actually read for it some years back, so I know how high their standards are—the minute I heard I'd been nominated, I thought that if I had to pick one award I'd love to win, that'd be it. (As an aside, though, I'd like to note that Experimental Film recently won the 2015 Sunburst Award for Best Adult Novel as well, which both amazed and delighted me. Canadian award for a Canadian book!)" 

Read Gemma Files' Q&A with us about her book and its success.

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Book Cover The Dancehall Years

The Dancehall Years, by Joan Haggerty

"The Dancehall Years is an elegy to a coastal culture almost lost—island cottages with views of the Union Steamships in Howe Sound, the Japanese gardeners before WWII and the terrible internments, forgotten inlets and logging camps, long summer evenings in the dancehall, with its circle of white Corinthian columns, where ‘you're only allowed to dance inside the columns if you're in love or if you're spectacular dancers.’ Haggerty explores the intricate ecology of families, where memory and love are as tangled and difficult as blackberry canes surrounding the cottages, their histories echoing.” —Theresa Kishkan

The Dancehall Years was featured on our "CAN'T FAIL Summer Reading List."

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In-Between Days, by Teva Harrison

"People have been so generous. I am so grateful. I have heard from a number of people who live with cancer, chronic pain, degenerative diseases, people who have been set aside by society, in a way, that the work makes them feel understood. I don’t have words for how much of a gift that is to me. And many people have told me that it has helped them to understand a bit more what their loved ones are going through with their illness. I have been humbled by the response. The book has a life of its own beyond my personal story and I am so grateful."

Read Trevor Corkum's interview with Teva Harrison.

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Book Cover Don't I Know You

Don't I Know You?, by Marni Jackson

"I’m very excited about Marni Jackson’s Don’t I Know You?, recently published by Flatiron Books and edited by the incredible Amy Einhorn. It’s wise, deep, commercially appealing—and also uniquely Canadian, but not in an obvious way."

Read Marissa Stapley's thoughts about commercial fiction in Canada.

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We're All In This Together, by Amy Jones

"If I have to pick just one book I'm dying to read this summer, it's We're All in This Together by Amy Jones. Jones is also the author of What Boys Like and Other Stories. I loved that book and so am curious to see what Jones has done in a novel. Apparently there are crazy family shenanigans involved and I think Jones's wit will just slice family dynamics wide open. Have this one on the top of my pile to enjoy under a tree in August—can't wait!"

Rhonda Douglas recommends We're All In This Together as part of our "Authors on the Books They Can't Wait to Read This Summer" feature. 

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Book Cover The Party Wall

The Party Wall, by Catherine Leroux

"I believe that art and fiction are the best channels to improve understanding and solidarity between the proverbial two solitudes. Canada’s francophone communities produce some wonderful writers who are creating books unlike anything else in the world, books that shed a different light on what it means to be Canadian, North American, a person of the 21st century, the inheritor of a colonial past ..."

Read Catherine Leroux's interview with Trevor Corkum.

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Book Cover The Conjoined

The Conjoined, by Jen Sookfong Lee

"I had flirted with the idea of writing a literary crime novel for years, partly because I love crime fiction and partly because the very best and very worst of humanity bubbles up whenever a crime has occurred. And there’s nothing I like better than exploring what grosses people out!"

See Jen Sookfong Lee's list of books that inspired The Conjoined

*

The Heaviness of Things That Float, by Jennifer Manuel

"A gorgeous novel that grabs you right from the beginning. Written from the point of view of Bernadette, a non-native woman who lives in a First Nations community, on the West Coast, as a nurse for forty years. This book is an exploration of how Bernadette fits into a community that is very different from her own, where spirits and myth and stories combine to teach Bernadette the values of those whose lives she literally holds in her hands." 

Lee Trentadue recommends The Heaviness of Things That Float in our "Shelf Talkers" series. 

*

Certain Dark Things, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 

"Sunburst Award-shortlisted Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Signal to Noise) has written an urban fantasy novel about vampires—and it’s terrific. With dark and delicious elegance, Moreno-Garcia delivers a satisfyingly bloody vampire story with a tantalizing twist—Aztec mythology—and a romance that warms the heart even as it causes it to pound a little faster out of sheer terror." —The Globe and Mail

Don't miss "How to Model Believable Chaos: A Roundtable on World Building." 

*

Book Cover I'm Thinking of Ending THings

I'm Thinking of Ending Things, by Iain Reid

“These characters are carefully developed and the plot takes some frightening turns, leading to a shocking ending. The construct of this book is brilliant and unusual and should appeal to fans of psychological thrillers, as well as to some horror fans. A dark and compelling debut novel, it is a most uncomfortable read but utterly unputdownable.”—Booklist

I'm Thinking of Ending Things appeared on our list Get Gripped: Mystery, Thriller and Crime Novels. 

*

On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light, by Cordelia Strube

"This novel broke a lot of hearts this spring, but we promise you the pain will be worth it. On the Shores of Darkness is heavy, but also hilarious, and is such a strong, beautiful book that never misses a literary beat." 

Explore the 2016 Toronto Book Awards Shortlist.

*

Still Mine, by Amy Stuart

"Arguably, perseveration is not a good thing. It is perseverance gone awry. Still, the word always stuck with me. I am a fan of doggedness; I figure I would rather be the type to fixate than the type to give up, and I relate to people who have a hard time changing tacks. When I started writing Still Mine, I wanted readers to watch my main character, Clare O’Dey, develop this trait over the course of the novel. I wanted her to become dogged, to perseverate on the events unfolding in Blackmore so that the reader might too."

See Amy Stuart's selections for CanLit's Most Dogged. 

*

The Break, by Katherena Vermette

"Family really comes through as a strong theme, doesn’t it? I didn’t know that’s what I was writing at first, but it’s better for it. When I started this, it was a story about the perpetrator, the victim and the witness, and of course, that became intensely depressing really fast. Then I heard the other women—those aunties and mothers and friends—and writing them really lifted that initial heaviness and gave the story hope. That was when I figured out what this book was about it. It wasn’t about the violence or trying to understand the why of it. This is a story about the how we get through it. And that answer, of course, is with each other."

Read Trevor Corkum's interview with Katherena Vermette. 

*

Book Cover Congratulations on Everything

Congratulations on Everything, by Nathan Whitlock

"Jeremy’s ambition for as long as he can remember has been to own his own bar and he finally has the keys to The Ice Shack; Charlene is the most empathetic waitress in the world but she’s desperate to get out of her smothering marriage. Add a dash of bitters, shake well and serve in a salt-rimmed highball. Whitlock serves up a touching, empathetic, and darkly funny exploration of small lives under scrutiny, and the ramifications of a few wrong turns. I used to work in a place like this and everything rings true. Grab yourself a deck chair, a drink of choice, and settle in." 

David Worsley recommends Congratulations on Everything in our "Shelf Talkers" series. 

*

Book Cover The Best Kind of Poeple

The Best Kind of People, by Zoe Whittall

"I was trying to write another book and was having a hard time of it, and I was listening to The Current. It was around the time of the Russell Williams case. There was a lot of talk about his wife and how could she not have known. They were interviewing a therapist who ran a support group for women who stay in relationships with men who commit sex crimes. I was really curious about who those women were, and a bit judgmental. And I was thinking a lot about empathy and how important it is to empathize with even your most despicable characters, and that’s how I imagined the character of Joan, and it emerged from there." 

Read Trevor Corkum's interview with Zoe Whittall.

*

The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

"You will never look at a tree the same way after reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, which reveals the mindboggling properties and behavior of these terrestrial giants. Read this electrifying book, then go out and hug a tree—with admiration and gratitude." —David Suzuki

Check out our list of Tree Books. 

*

Book Cover Five Roses

Five Roses, by Alice Zorn

Alice Zorn's new novel is set in Montreal's historic Pointe St-Charles neighbourhood, and is a story about history, community, connections, and friendship. And it is, unabashedly, also a love letter to Montreal.

Read Alice Zorn's Montreal Books List.

November 28, 2016

Books mentioned in this post

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Brown

What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone)

by Kamal Al-Solaylee
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Hardcover Audiobook (CD)
tagged: discrimination & race relations, 21st century, demography

Winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing

Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-fiction and the Trillium Book Award

A Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Life, Walrus, CBC Books, Chatelaine, Hill Times, 49th Shelf and Writers’ Trust Best Book of the Year

With the urgency and passion of Ta-Nehisi Coates (Be …

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Stranger

A Novel

by David Bergen
edition: eBook
also available: Hardcover Paperback
tagged: literary, dystopian

From Giller prize–winning author of The Time in Between and Canada Reads finalist for The Age of Hope comes a stirring tale that lays bare the bonds of motherhood, revealing just how far a mother will go to reclaim her stolen child.

Íso, a young Guatemalan woman, works at a fertility clinic at Ixchel, in the highlands of the Sierra Madre de Chiap …

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Bearskin Diary

by Carol Daniels
edition: Paperback
also available: Audiobook
tagged: native american & aboriginal

Raw and honest, Bearskin Diary gives voice to a generation of First Nations women who have always been silenced, at a time when movements like Idle No More call for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Carol Daniels adds an important perspective to the Canadian literary landscape.

 

Taken from the arms of her mother as s …

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Becoming Lin

by Tricia Dower
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: literary

It's 1965. Twenty-two-year-old Linda Wise despairs of escaping her overprotective parents and her hometown, where far too many know she was sexually assaulted as a teenager. Deliverance arrives in the form of marriage to the charismatic, twenty-six-year-old Ronald Brunson, a newly ordained Methodist minister who ignites her passion for social justi …

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Experimental Film

by Gemma Files
edition: Paperback
tagged: suspense, horror
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Experimental Film

by Gemma Files
edition: Paperback
tagged: suspense, horror
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The Dancehall Years

A West Coast saga from Bowen Island, 1939

by Joan Haggerty
edition: Paperback
tagged: literary, historical

“Joan Haggerty (Daughters of the Moon) is such a strong writer… She’ll be read with appreciation for her talent.” –John Irving

 

"With the splendid flexibility of her narrating voice and empathetic heart, Joan Haggerty has conjured up a richly textured world in order to explore the dreams, heartbreaks, adventures, and surprises of a unique …

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In-Between Days

A Memoir About Living with Cancer

by Teva Harrison
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook Audiobook
tagged: personal memoirs, medical, biography & memoir

2016 Governor General's Literary Award Finalist

2017 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Winner

2017 Joe Shuster Award Nominee

Teva Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 37. In this brilliant and inspiring graphic memoir, she documents through comic illustration and short personal essays what it means to live with the disease. She …

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Don't I Know You?

by Marni Jackson
edition: Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged: literary

What if some of the artists we feel as if we know—Meryl Streep, Neil Young, Bill Murray—turned up in the course of our daily lives?
This is what happens to Rose McEwan, an ordinary woman who keeps having strange encounters with famous people. In this engrossing, original novel-in-stories, we follow her life from age 17, when she takes a summer …

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We're All in This Together

by Amy Jones
edition: Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged: family life, literary, contemporary women

Winner of Northern Lit Award
Finalist for the Leacock Medal for Humour
Quill & Quire "Books of the Year 2016"
Globe & Mail "Best Canadian Fiction of 2016"
A woman goes over a waterfall, a video goes viral, a family goes into meltdown -- life is about to get a lot more complicated for the Parker family.

Like all families, the Parkers of Thunder Bay h …

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The Conjoined

A Novel

by Jen Sookfong Lee
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback Audiobook
tagged: literary, cultural heritage, family life

 

Longlisted for the 2018 International Dublin Literary Award

A masterful and gripping novel from “an undeniably talented writer” — Globe and Mail

On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into …

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Heaviness of Things That Float

by Jennifer Manuel
edition: Paperback
tagged: literary

Jennifer Manuel skilfully depicts the lonely world of Bernadette, a woman who has spent the last forty years living alone on the periphery of a remote West Coast First Nations reserve, serving as a nurse for the community. This is a place where truth and myth are deeply intertwined and stories are "like organisms all their own, life upon life, the …

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Certain Dark Things

A Novel

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
edition: Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged: paranormal

Certain Dark Things combines elements of Latin American mythology with a literary voice that leads readers on an exhilarating and fast-paced journey.

Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Here in the city, heavily policed to keep the creatures of the night at bay, Domingo is another trash-picking street kid, just hoping to make enou …

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Certain Dark Things

A Novel

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
edition: Hardcover
tagged: paranormal

Certain Dark Things combines elements of Latin American mythology with a literary voice that leads readers on an exhilarating and fast-paced journey.

Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Here in the city, heavily policed to keep the creatures of the night at bay, Domingo is another trash-picking street kid, just hoping to make enou …

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I'm Thinking of Ending Things

by Iain Reid
edition: Paperback
tagged: suspense, psychological, thrillers

You will be scared. But you won’t know why…

I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It’s always there. Always.
Jake and I have a real connection, a rare and intense attachment. What has it been...a month? I’m very attracted to him. Even though he isn’t striking, not really. I’m going to meet his parents for …

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On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light

by Cordelia Strube
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
tagged: literary

From the acclaimed author of Lemon comes a clever and heartbreaking new novel of love and revelation

Shortlisted for the 2016 Toronto Book Award

Harriet is 11 going on 30. Her mixed-media art is a source of wonder to her younger brother, Irwin, but an unmitigated horror to the panoply of insufficiently grown-up grown-ups who surround her. She plans t …

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Still Mine

by Amy Stuart
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback Paperback
tagged: thrillers, suspense

In this taut psychological thriller, one woman hunts for the truth about the suspicious disappearance of a local girl in a small town, where everyone is implicated.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU VANISH FROM YOUR LIFE AND LEAVE NO STORY BEHIND?
SOMEONE WILL MAKE ONE UP FOR YOU.
Clare is on the run. From her past, from her husband, and from her own secrets. Wh …

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The Break

by Katherena Vermette
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
tagged: literary, native american & aboriginal

Winner of the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award, The Break is a stunning and heartbreaking debut novel about a multigenerational Métis–Anishnaabe family dealing with the fallout of a shocking crime in Winnipeg’s North End.

When Stella, a young Mé …

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The Break

by Katherena Vermette
edition: Paperback
tagged: literary, native american & aboriginal

Winner of the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award, The Break is a stunning and heartbreaking debut novel about a multigenerational Métis–Anishnaabe family dealing with the fallout of a shocking crime in Winnipeg’s North End.

When Stella, a young Mé …

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Congratulations on Everything

by Nathan Whitlock
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
tagged: literary

Ambition, failure, sex, and the service industry

A dark and comic novel, Congratulations On Everything tracks the struggles, frailties, and cruelly pyrrhic victories of the middle-aged owner of a bar-restaurant and a 30ish lunch-shift waitress.

Jeremy has bought into the teachings of an empowerment and success guru, hook, line, and sinker. A Toronto …

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The Best Kind of People

by Zoe Whittall
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: literary, family life

A finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and a national bestseller, Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People is a stunning tour de force about the unravelling of an all-American family.

George Woodbury, an affable teacher and beloved husband and father, is arrested for sexual impropriety at a prestigious prep school. His wife, Joan, vaults betwee …

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The Hidden Life of Trees

What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World

by Peter Wohlleben, foreword by Tim Flannery, translated by Jane Billinghurst, contributions by Suzanne Simard
edition: Hardcover
also available: eBook Hardcover
tagged: trees, botany, essays

A NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, AND WALL STREET JOURNAL BESTSELLER • One of the most beloved books of our time: an illuminating account of the forest, and the science that shows us how trees communicate, feel, and live in social networks. After reading this book, a walk in the woods will never be the same again.

“Breaks entirely new ground .. …

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Five Roses

by Alice Zorn
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged: literary, contemporary women, sagas

2017 Evergreen Award, Forest of Reading — Nominated

A sister. A baby. A man who watches from the trees.

Fara and her husband buy a house with a disturbing history that reawakens memories of her own family tragedy. Maddy still lives in the house, once a hippie commune, where her daughter was kidnapped twenty-seven years ago. Rose grew up isolated wi …

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