The Strangers – Katherena Vermette

Like the companion novel The Break, this book begins with a Trigger Warning. The Strangers are a multi-generational Metis family living in Winnipeg: the story focusses on grandmother Margaret, daughter Elsie and children Phoenix and Cedar. Powerful emotions characterize these women: anger, shame in addictions, feeling invisible. Reflecting on sad stories, Margaret concludes (page 316) that “only Indians, Metis … had sorrow built into their bones, who exchanged despair as exclusively as recipes, who had devastation after devastation after dismissal after denial woven into their skin”. Compelling sentiments in the setting of important and necessary stories – a must read for all Canadians.

Fifty-Four Pigs – Philipp Schott

Mystery-crime stories are influenced markedly by context (time and place) and the “amateur sleuth” (think Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher) is a special genre. This intriguing first novel is about a crime-solving veterinarian in Manitoba who uses logic and his dog Pippin’s remarkable nose to investigate when a swine barn explodes, revealing a murder victim. Totally charming.

The Good Women of Safe Harbor – Bobbi French

There is much to admire in this first novel. First, it is a female relationship book that deals with gritty subjects: teenage pregnancy, suicide, and medically assisted death. And second, the setting is Newfoundland. Some core values: friendship and forgiveness, the decision to love and be loved.

Astra – Cedar Bowers

This is a very fine relationship book. Astra has had an unconventional childhood on a BC commune, essentially growing up without security or love. This creates a defensive and needy personality, someone who is defined by her relationships. Thus, each chapter is presented from the point-of-view of 10 people who interact with her. Excellent storytelling.

Sea of Tranquility – Emily St. John Mandel

Another brilliant book by Ms. Mandel, a sweeping epic that spans from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a moon colony in 2401. Intriguingly, there are links to Mandel’s previous novel, The Glass Hotel, and to post-pandemic literature in general. And there is an author on a book tour and a time traveller. Absorbing and immersive, this is a fantastic futuristic novel that eerily captures our current reality. Highly recommended.

Scarborough – Catherine Hernandez

Scarborough is a low-income culturally diverse suburb of Toronto. This novel graphically describes a troubled community struggling against poverty, racism, and urban blight, mainly through the experiences of children. Often sad but also hopeful, this is a powerful story. Thanks Steph, for this recommendation. Scarborough is a Canada Reads 2022 contender.

When We Lost Our Heads – Heather O’Neill

Simply put, this is a wonderful book about compelling and complex women in Montreal at the end of the 19th century. Men in the story are mostly inconsequential, despite some appallingly boorish behaviour. Marie and Sadie are best friends as children, but theirs is a classic love-hate relationship (“Every decent friendship comes with a drop of hatred. But that hatred is like honey in the tea. It makes it addictive”). Marie is spoiled and entitled; Sadie is subversive and dangerous. Ms. O’Neill‘s writing is enchanting with exquisite similes describing disparate worlds: life in a brothel, exploitive factory work (the Squalid Mile). Female relationships are infinitely complex with righteous anger, pettiness and jealousy, and a self-absorbed woman who has no empathy toward other women. Powerful feminist themes abound: the invisibility of marriage, sexual awareness leading to female empowerment. And finally, anticipate a late plot twist and an extraordinary ending. This is O’Neill at her best, a Montreal noir story.

Forest Green – Kate Pullinger

A story of Art Lunn in different BC locations. His life is defined by a tragic incident at 8 years of age, which he blames himself for the rest of his life. Consequently, he is unable to make commitments to other people, and descends into alcoholism and eventual homelessness, an acute example of how early trauma can initiate a life-long feeling of worthlessness. Actually, the story is less depressing than the above description implies, so worth a read.