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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.

*

The Luminous Sea, by Melissa Barbeau

The Luminous Sea imagines the discovery of a fairy tale creature in a scientific world where unique genetic code is considered treasure. The book asks whether magic and science can exist in the same space, and if there is any space left for wonder in a world that rushes to claim ownership of every new thing.”

Read Melissa Barbeau’s list, “Where Magic Meets Science.”

*

Hysteria, by Elisabeth De Mariaffi

“Something sinister that Heike cannot quite put her finger on is lingering just beneath the surface of this idyllic life…”

Read De Mariaffi’s list, “NevertheLIST, she persisted: 8 female protagonists who don’t have time for your sh*t.”

*

French Exit, by Patrick DeWitt

“I’ve been wanting to write about Paris since I first visited there, however many years ago. It took some time to find the right story for the setting, though. It’s an overwritten city. And it’s been written about so beautifully, and I was fearful of marring the legacy, somehow.”

Read DeWitt’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.

*

That Tiny Life, by Erin Frances Fisher

“Writing the stories in That Tiny Life took a lot of research—more research than I was used to—and this process surprised me by being incredibly fun. Some of that research was easier to access: my sister is a falconer and let me tag along when she went rabbit hunting with her hawk, and as a young kid I lived in Inuvik, NWT. Astronauts on the International Space Station livestream videos from space, and I found everything I needed about Civil War amputation via era-enthusiasts’ blogs and articles.”

Read Fisher’s list, “The Pleasure of Details.”

*

Two Roads Home, by Daniel Griffin

“It interested me to consider how people can go from peaceful protest to violent acts, so for sure that moral grey zone was important. But for me the answer to why and how a group of smart, educated young people turn to violence took more imagination and soul searching than it did research.”

Read Griffin’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.

*

The Amateurs, by Liz Harmer

The Amateurs is set in a not-too-distant future where most of the human population has disappeared via Ports, doorways to other times and alternate universes from which travellers should theoretically be able to return—except that no one comes back. Are they unwilling to? Are they unable?”

Read Harmer’s list, “Books That Ask the Big Questions.”

*

The Very Marrow of Our Bones, by Christine Higdon

"I was thinking about my mother when I started writing The Very Marrow of Our Bones. There must have been days, like that one, where she might have liked to not be travelling down that particular life path. I was thinking about other women who were young, poor, overwhelmed. We’re not very sympathetic about women who buckle under the pressures of motherhood. This was something I wanted to explore, with compassion.”

Read Hidgon’s list, “Books That Take You on a Journey.”

*

Things Are Good Now, by Djamila Ibrahim

“As difficult and heartbreaking as some of these stories of loss are, it’s important to note that behind the pain and despair, there is always hope, however dim, and a will to survive and prevail. Family, community and faith often play a crucial role in providing a space for healing. And people can be victims in one scenario, and an oppressor in another, a hero to some and a villain to others. These complications bring depth and nuance to the stories, and make the difficult passages easier to write.”

 Read Ibrahim’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.

*

The Showrunner, by Kim Moritsugu

“Strong, outspoken women rule in the seven novels I've had published to date, including my latest, The Showrunner: it's about two women battling for control of the primetime TV drama they co-created, and a third woman who comes between them and plays both sides against the middle, with deadly results. “

Read Moritsugu’s list, “Women Killing It.”

*

We All Need to Eat, by Alex Leslie

“It was difficult to write because it is so deeply physical—the emotion of the story for me is held in the descriptions of her changing her body, the pain and ultimately the self-mastery. It's hard to write about internal emotional and psychological transformation without ‘leading’ the reader. The tone took forever to pin down. I revised this story countless times, rearranging components. I juxtaposed the weightlifting passages with social media passages, to modulated pacing.”

Watch for Leslie’s conversation with Trevor Corkum, coming soon!

*

Dear Evelyn, by Kathy Page

“Kathy Page has written a story of a marriage that spans the time period between the WWI and WWII and after, a lifetime of this couple, Evelyn and Harry, whose characters are so well drawn that you feel you are inside of their story. Their relationship just barely gets started when Harry, after enlisting, is sent off to fight in Tunisia. And we follow Harry there through his letters home to Evelyn. This is not a perfect marriage, but this is a perfect telling of it!”

Read Lee Trentadue’s recommendation in the November edition of Shelf Talkers.

*

Sister of Mine, by Laurie Petrou

“I am a sister, but don’t have one. I have a brother, to whom I am very close, and a best friend, who is like a sister to me, and whom I’ve known since the age of three. There is something about knowing someone your whole life, who has ridden through childhood with you to the other side, into adulthood, that is unlike any other relationship.”

Read Laurie Petrou’s list, “For Your Brother, Your Sister, or Your Sister from Another Mister.”

*

The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner, by Jennifer Quist

“This is Edmonton writing, and it exists even when there is no traveling cosmopolitan poet standing over our beds. It’s set in streetscapes, not farm-scapes. The weather is part of Edmonton writing but it’s outside the hotel glass, opposite stories set in warm rooms of people who “have been where you’re hanging [and] think [we] can see where you’re “

Read Quist’s list of books set in Edmonton.

*

Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice

“While the story explores post-apocalyptic and dystopian themes by modern North American standards, it’s also looks at upheaval as a chance for rebirth and renewal for the Indigenous people at the centre. As modern infrastructure disintegrates, the Anishinaabeg in Moon of the Crusted Snow turn to the land, culture, and traditional knowledge for survival. Family and community are at the heart of their existence and their ability to persevere in the midst of this chaos. It’s also an allegory for colonialism, and considers important historical context as it relates to modern-day Canada.”

Read Rice’s list of books that inspired and influenced him as he wrote his own.

*

Radiant Shimmering Light, by Sarah Selecky

“This novel is about women: entrepreneurs, artists, and visionaries. The two protagonists are 40 years old, unmarried, and they do not live or work with men. The book isn’t experimental in form, and yet it felt risky. Was it okay to write this? A story about women who aren’t wives or mothers, a story without an important male character? There was a voice in my head telling me it wasn’t allowed.”

Read Selecky’s Recommended Reading List, “Permission to Write Beyond.”

*

In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo, by Claire Tacon

“I was thinking a lot about how siblings can experience the same parents in very different ways. A relative who I am close with is disabled and she was raised with a typical sibling. They grew up in the 1950s, and their parents tended to overestimate the typical sibling and underestimate the disabled one. It wasn’t a healthy dynamic for either of them and, more than sixty years later, that experience still shapes their lives and sibling interaction.”

Read Tacon’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.

*

Liminal, by Jordan Tannahill

“For a lot of queer men, our mothers are the first prisms through which our gender-identification and sexuality are refracted. This can forge a profound and intimate bond, but also one that is very loaded and fraught. I would say the relationship depicted in the novel is certainly both.”

Read Tannahill’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.

*

Things Not to Do, by Jessica Westhead

“Like most other writers, I do a lot of observing and eavesdropping. I get excited when I luck out and witness a particularly awkward exchange between people, and I thrive on moments that bristle with unacknowledged tension. I mean, those moments make me really uncomfortable, but I LOVE them. I’m fascinated by how we so rarely come out and say what’s really on our minds, even when those thoughts are so close to the surface—or at least I imagine they are.”

Read Weshead’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.

*

A Sorrowful Sanctuary, by Iona Whishaw

“My own books mirror the life of someone who has moved several times, someone who has not quite succeeded in putting down roots—mainly from a lack of practice. The trauma of war bifurcates the lives of many into branches of what existed before and what remains after; so too can the past feel like an alternate plane of existence, leaving survivors feeling fragmented as they are grafted into the circumstances of their new lives. Many of my characters have come from various sorts of wars, both personal and geopolitical, as do those in the books I have chosen.”

Read Iona Whishaw’s list, “Out of Place.”

*

Jonny Appleseed, by Joshua Whitehead

“When I excised the 'beach' poems, as I call them, from full-metal indigiqueer, Jonny returned pining for me to write him into the world—well, more like demanded of me to write him. He began as a short story, then a novella, and then finally, in full NDN glitter princess fashion he finally said, ‘Ah, for hell sakes just write a damn novel about me already.”’

Read Whitehead’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.

November 29, 2018

Books mentioned in this post

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The Boat People

by Sharon Bala
edition: Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged: literary, cultural heritage, political

By the winner of The Journey Prize, and inspired by a real incident, The Boat People is a gripping and morally complex novel about a group of refugees who survive a perilous ocean voyage to reach Canada – only to face the threat of deportation and accusations of terrorism in their new land.
 
When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five …

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Hysteria

A Novel

by Elisabeth de Mariaffi
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback Paperback
tagged: psychological, thrillers

One of The Globe and Mail’s “Favourite Books of the Year”

The closer she gets to the truth, the faster it slips away.

In the spring of 1945, fifteen year-old Heike circles in the mountains high above Switzerland. Pushed out the door by a worried mother, Heike and her little sister, Lena, have escaped Dresden only days ahead of the firebombs tha …

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French Exit

by Patrick deWitt
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: literary, black humor, family life

Finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and an international bestseller, Patrick deWitt’s brilliant and darkly comic novel is now a major motion picture starring Michelle Pfeiffer.

Frances Price — tart widow, possessive mother, and Upper East Side force of nature — is in dire straits, beset by scandal and impending bankruptcy. Her adult son M …

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That Tiny Life

by Erin Frances Fisher
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: short stories (single author), literary

In settings that range from the old American West to pre-revolutionary France, from a present-day dig site in the high tablelands of South America to deep space, That Tiny Life is a wide-ranging and utterly original collection of short fiction and a novella that examines the idea of progress — humanity’s never-ending cycle of creation and destr …

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Two Roads Home

by Daniel Griffin
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: terrorism, literary

A fast-paced literary eco-thriller about the power of resistance, the fine line between activism and terrorism, and what happens when things go too far.

It is 1993 on Vancouver Island. A group of idealistic young activists, determined to do whatever it takes to protect the environment, turn to sabotage. But in a single moment everything they've work …

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The Very Marrow of Our Bones

A Novel

by Christine Higdon
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged: literary, family life, lesbian, contemporary women

 

Defiance, faith, and triumph in a heartrending novel about daughters and mothers

On a miserable November day in 1967, two women disappear from a working-class town on the Fraser River. The community is thrown into panic, with talk of drifters and murderous husbands. But no one can find a trace of Bette Parsons or Alice McFee. Even the egg seller, D …

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Things Are Good Now

by Djamila Ibrahim
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook Audiobook
tagged: short stories (single author), literary, contemporary women

Set in East Africa, the Middle East, Canada, and the U.S., Things Are Good Now examines the weight of the migrant experience on the human psyche.

In Djamila Ibrahim’s powerful story collection, women, men, and children who’ve crossed continents in search of a better life find themselves struggling with the chaos of displacement and the religiou …

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The Showrunner

by Kim Moritsugu
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged: contemporary women, black humor, suspense

The hiring of a new assistant triggers a power struggle between an aging TV show creator and her former protégée.

Rising-star showrunner Stacey McCreedy has one goal: to leave behind her nerd-girl origins and become a power player — like Ann Dalloni, her former mentor and current producing partner. Ann, meanwhile, is feeling her age and losing h …

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We All Need To Eat

by Alex Leslie
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
tagged: lesbian, short stories (single author)

Finalist for the 2020 Western Canada Jewish Book Awards, The Nancy Richler Memorial Prize for Fiction

Finalist for the 2020 Kobzar Book Award

Finalist for the 2019 Ethel Wilson Fiction Award

We All Need to Eat is a new collection of linked stories from award-winning author Alex Leslie that revolve around Soma, a young Queer woman in Vancouver, chroni …

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Dear Evelyn

by Kathy Page
edition: Paperback
also available: Audiobook (CD)
tagged: literary, family life

WINNER OF THE 2018 ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE • WINNER OF THE 2019 CITY OF VICTORIA BUTLER BOOK PRIZE • A 2018 KIRKUS BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR • A GLOBE AND MAIL BEST BOOK OF 2018 • A TORONTO STAR TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR • A WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FAVOURITE BOOK OF THE YEAR • A QUILL & QUIRE BEST BOOK OF 2018

Inspired by the author …

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Sister of Mine

A Novel

by Laurie Petrou
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback Paperback Paperback
tagged: psychological, suspense

When is a debt ever fully paid?

Penny and Hattie are sisters in a small town, bound tight to the point of knots. They share a secret they cannot escape, even while it pulls them apart. One night, a match is lit, and Penny’s terrible husband is killed – a marriage going up in flames, and offering the potential of a new life. The sisters retreat i …

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Apocalypse of Morgan Turner, The

by Jennifer Quist
edition: Paperback
tagged: crime, family life

Morgan Turner's grief over her sister's brutal murder has become a rut, an everyday horror she is caught in along with her estranged parents and chilly older brother. In search of a way out, she delves the depths of a factory abattoir, classic horror cinema, and the Canadian criminal justice system, as it tries her sister's killer and former lover, …

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Moon of the Crusted Snow

A Novel

by Waubgeshig Rice
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback Audiobook
tagged: literary, dystopian, small town & rural, native american & aboriginal

 

National Bestseller

Winner of the 2019 OLA Forest of Reading Evergreen Award

Shortlisted for the 2019 John W. Campbell Memorial Award

Shortlisted for the 2019/20 First Nation Communities READ Indigenous Literature Award

2020 Burlington Library Selection; 2020 Hamilton Reads One Book One Community Selection; 2020 Region of Waterloo One Book One Communi …

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Radiant Shimmering Light

A Novel

by Sarah Selecky
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback
tagged: humorous

A sharply funny and wise debut novel about female friendship, the face we show the world online and letting your own light shine, from the Scotiabank Giller Prize–shortlisted author of This Cake Is for the Party

Lilian Quick has looked up to her cousin Florence her whole life. Florence is everything Lilian is not—brave, confident, quick to find …

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In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo

by Claire Tacon
edition: Paperback
also available: Audiobook
tagged: family life, literary

When Henry Robinson's first daughter, Starr, is born with Williams Syndrome, he swears to devote his life to making her happy. More than twenty years later, we find Henry working at Frankie's Funhouse, where he repairs the animatronic band that Starr loves, wrestling with her attempts at living outside the family home. His wife, Kathy, wishes he wo …

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Liminal

by Jordan Tannahill
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook Audiobook
tagged: literary, gay, biographical

From award-winning playwright and filmmaker Jordan Tannahill comes a masterful and moving novel in the tradition of Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station and Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be.

At 11:04 a.m. on January 21st, 2017, Jordan opens the door to his mother’s bedroom. As his eyes adjust to the half-light, he finds her lying in bed …

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Things Not to Do

by Jessica Westhead
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged: literary, short stories (single author)

Jessica Westhead's follow-up to And Also Sharks, a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book of 2011 and Finalist for the 2012 Danuta Gleed Literary Award.

 

Things Not to Do is a collection of stories that seeks to examine—through humour, wit, empathy, and honesty—the dark side of ordinary people. We know them; sometimes we are them. A man attends a gatherin …

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Jonny Appleseed

by Joshua Whitehead
edition: Paperback
also available: Audiobook
tagged: gay, native american & aboriginal, lgbt, literary

2021 CANADA READS WINNER

WINNER, Lambda Literary Award; Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction

Finalist, Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction; Amazon Canada First Novel Award; Indigenous Voices Award; Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award; Firecracker Award for Fiction

Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize

A Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year

A to …

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