Here is the list of the books we picked to read in 2016:
Kate Atkinson – A God in Ruins
Kate Atkinson’s dazzling Life After Life explored the possibility of infinite chances, symptoms following Ursula Todd as she lived through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. Her new novel tells the story of Ursula Todd’s beloved younger brother Teddy–would-be poet, order RAF bomber pilot, buy husband, and father–as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is facing the difficulties of living in a future he never expected to have. The stunning companion to Life After Life, A God in Ruins explores the loss of innocence, the fraught transition from the war to peace time, and the pain of being misunderstood, especially as we age. Proving once again that Kate Atkinson is “one of the finest writers working today” (The Chicago Tribune), A God in Ruins is the triumphant return of a modern master.
“A sprawling, unapologetically ambitious saga that tells the story of postwar Britain through the microcosm of a single family, [reminds you] what a big, old-school novel can do. . . . It’s a masterly and frequently exhilarating performance by a novelist who seems utterly undaunted by the imposing challenges she’s set for herself. . . . Atkinson’s a sly and witty observer, with a gift for finding the perfect detail.” ?Tom Perrotta, The New York Times Book Review
Rachel Cusk – Outline
A novel in ten conversations, Outline follows a novelist teaching creative writing during an oppressively hot summer in Athens. She leads her students in storytelling, meets other writers for dinner, and swims in the Ionian Sea with a man she met on the plane. The people she encounters speak volubly about themselves. And through these disclosures, a portrait of the narrator is drawn by contrast, a portrait of a woman learning to face a great loss.
“One of the most daringly original and entertaining pieces of fiction I’ve ever read” Observer “Mesmerising” New Yorker “Brilliant…absorbing, thought-provoking” Evening Standard “Rachel Cusk breaks all the rules… Outline captivates” Independent “A lethally intelligent novel” New York Times Book Review
Kathleen Grissom – The Kitchen House
In this gripping New York Times bestseller, Kathleen Grissom brings to life a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War, where a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate. Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family.
In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.
[Grissom’s] . . . debut twists the conventions of the antebellum novel. . . . Provides a trove of tension and grit, while the many nefarious doings will keep readers hooked to the twisted, yet hopeful, conclusion.” (Publishers Weekly)
Kristen Hannah – The Nightingale
France, 1939 – In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
“A beautifully written and richly evocative examination of life, love, and the ravages of war, and the different ways people react to unthinkable situations?not to mention the terrible and mounting toll of keeping secrets. This powerhouse of a story is equally packed with action and emotion, and is sure to be another major hit.” ?Sara Gruen,
Lawrence Hill – The Illegal
Keita Ali is on the run. Like every boy on the mountainous island of Zantoroland, running is all Keita’s ever wanted to do. In one of the poorest nations in the world, running means respect. Running means riches-until Keita is targeted for his father’s outspoken political views and discovers he must run for his family’s survival. He signs on with notorious marathon agent Anton Hamm, but when Keita fails to place among the top finishers in his first race, he escapes into Freedom State-a wealthy island nation that has elected a government bent on deporting the refugees living within its borders in the community of AfricTown. This is the new underground: a place where tens of thousands of people deemed to be “illegal” live below the radar of the police and government officials. As Keita surfaces from time to time to earn cash prizes by running local road races, he has to assess whether the people he meets are friends or enemies. Keita’s very existence in Freedom State is illegal. As he trains in secret, eluding capture, the stakes keep getting higher. Soon, he is running not only for his life, but for his sister’s life, too.
Fast moving and compelling, The Illegal casts a satirical eye on people who have turned their backs on undocumented refugees struggling to survive in a nation that does not want them. Hill’s depiction of life on the borderlands of society urges us to consider the plight of the unseen and the forgotten who live among us.
The Illegal is a twisting, intricately woven yarn that spins itself out at an incredible pace. (The Globe and Mail)
Marlon James – A Brief History of Seven Killings
In A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James combines brilliant storytelling with his unrivaled skills of characterization and meticulous eye for detail to forge an enthralling novel of dazzling ambition and scope. On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions in Kingston, seven gunmen stormed the singer’s house, machine guns blazing. The attack wounded Marley, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Little was officially released about the gunmen, but much has been whispered, gossiped and sung about in the streets of West Kingston. Rumors abound regarding the assassins’ fates, and there are suspicions that the attack was politically motivated.
A Brief History of Seven Killings delves deep into that dangerous and unstable time in Jamaica’s history and beyond. James deftly chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – gunmen, drug dealers, one-night stands, CIA agents, even ghosts – over the course of thirty years as they roam the streets of 1970s Kingston, dominate the crack houses of 1980s New York, and ultimately reemerge into the radically altered Jamaica of the 1990s. Along the way, they learn that evil does indeed cast long shadows, that justice and retribution are inextricably linked, and that no one can truly escape his fate. Gripping and inventive, shocking and irresistible, A Brief History of Seven Killings is a mesmerizing modern classic of power, mystery, and insight.
Named a top book of 2015 in 20 newspapers book lists
“A sweeping novel that touches on family, friendship, celebrity, art, sexuality, ghetto politics, geopolitics, drug trade, gender, race and more, sending the reader from Jamaica to New York via Miami and Cuba and back.” —Newsweek
JoJo Moyes – Me Before You
Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.
Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.
“Funny, surprising and heartbreaking, populated with characters who are affecting and amusing . . . This is a thought-provoking, thoroughly entertaining novel that captures the complexity of love”
John Vaillant – Jaguar’s Children
Hector, a young Zapotec fleeing Mexico for a better life in the US with his friend Cesar, a biotech researcher, pays to be smuggled across the border by unscrupulous “coyotes,” concealed in the tightly sealed, empty tank of a water truck packed with illegal migrants. Abandoned by the smugglers in the desert, they are left to die, their only lifeline Cesar’s phone. When Cesar slips into unconsciousness, Hector reaches out to the one name with an American code–AnniMac–that becomes his lifeline to the world as he reveals what has brought him to this place, taking us back to an older Mexico; to the lives of his Zapotec grandparents and the ancient, mythic traditions, to the mystery behind the jaguar icon left to him by a mysterious archeologist, and the power of the corn myth. As legends fuse with the terrifying present, the dangers Cesar is fleeing become grippingly apparent: his research was threatening to expose the country’s largest manufacturer of genetically modified corn, set to impose economic and cultural genocide on the native population. Finding the courage to survive is critical, even as hope dwindles.
“The Jaguar’s Children is devastating. It’s at once a literary mystery, an engrossing tour de force, and a brilliant commentary on humanity’s role in the physical world. The voice that echoes out from that abandoned place Vaillant so masterfully creates won’t leave me.” —Joseph Boyden
Ann Walmsey – The Prison Book Club
An attack in London left Ann Walmsley unable to walk alone down the street, and shook her belief in the fundamental goodness of people. A few years later, when a friend asked her to participate in a bold new venture in a men’s medium security prison, Ann had to weigh her curiosity and desire to be of service against her anxiety and fear. But she signed on, and for eighteen months went to a remote building at Collins Bay, meeting a group of heavily tattooed book club members without the presence of guards or security cameras. There was no wine and cheese, no plush furnishings. But a book club on the inside proved to be a place to share ideas and regain a sense of humanity.
For the men, the books were rare prized possessions, and the meetings were an oasis of safety and a respite from isolation in an otherwise hostile environment. Having been judged themselves, they were quick to make judgments about the books they read. As they discussed the obstacles the characters faced, they revealed glimpses of their own struggles that were devastating and comic. The books changed the men and the men changed Walmsley, allowing her to move beyond her position as a victim. Given the choice, she’d forsake the company of privileged friends and their comfortable book club to make the two-hour drive to Collins Bay.
Explores the intriguing tension between the lives of incarcerated men and the liberating effects of reading great books. A terrific read that offers a glimpse into a world that is at once constricted yet capable of great emotional generosity.’ Steven Galloway,
Margaret Atwood – the Heart Goes Last
Several years after the world’s brutal economic collapse, Stan and Charmaine, a married couple struggling to stay afloat, hear about the Positron Project in the town of Consilience, an experiment in cooperative living that appears to be the answer to their problems – to living in their car, to the lousy jobs, to the vandalism and the gangs, to their piled-up debt. There’s just one drawback: once inside Consilience, you don’t get out. After weighing their limited options, Stan and Charmaine sign up, and soon they find themselves involved in the town’s strategy for economic stability: a pervasive prison system, whereby each citizen lives a double life, as a prisoner one month, and a guard or town functionary the next. At first, Stan and Charmaine enjoy their newfound prosperity. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who shares her civilian house, her actions set off an unexpected chain of events that leave Stan running for his life. Brilliant, dark, and provocative, The Heart Goes Last is a compelling futuristic vision that will drive readers to the edge of their seats.
“Atwood’s prose miraculously balances humor, outrage and beauty. A simple description becomes both chilling and sublime.” New York Times Book Review
Patrick deWitt – Undermajordomo Minor
Lucien (Lucy) Minor is the resident odd duck in the hamlet of Bury. Friendless and loveless, young and aimless, Lucy is a compulsive liar, a sickly weakling in a town famous for begetting brutish giants. Then Lucy accepts employment assisting the majordomo of the remote, foreboding Castle Von Aux. While tending to his new post as undermajordomo, he soon discovers the place harbours many dark secrets, not least of which is the whereabouts of the castle’s master, Baron Von Aux. In the local village, he also encounters thieves, madmen, aristocrats, and Klara, a delicate beauty whose love he must compete for with the exceptionally handsome partisan soldier, Adolphus. Thus begins a tale of polite theft, bitter heartbreak, domestic mystery, and cold-blooded murder.
Undermajordomo Minor is a triumphant ink-black comedy of manners by the Governor General’s Award–winning author of The Sisters Brothers. It is an adventure, and a mystery, and a searing portrayal of rural Alpine bad behaviour, but above all it is a love story. And Lucy must be careful, for love is a violent thing.
Page by page, the book is often a hoot, brimming with winningly quirky characters operating by their own twisted fairy-tale logic. (Michael Bourne Globe and Mail 2015-09-12)
Shilpi Somaya Gowda – The Golden Son
Anil is the cherished son of a large family in rural India. As the eldest boy, he is expected to inherit the role of leader of his clan and arbiter of its disputes, dispensing wisdom and good advice. Leena is his closest companion, a fiercely brave girl who loves nothing more than the wild terrain they inhabit and her close-knit family. As childhood friends, they are inseparable—but as adulthood approaches, they grow apart. Anil is the first person in his family to leave India, the first to attend college, the first to become a doctor. Half a world away in Dallas, Texas, he is caught up in his new life, experiencing all the freedoms and temptations of American culture: he tastes alcohol for the first time, falls in love, and learns firsthand about his adopted country’s alluring, dangerous contradictions. Though his work in a gritty urban hospital is grueling, Anil is determined to carve out his own life in America.
At home, Leena dreams of marriage, a strong and true love like the one shared by her parents, and leaves her beloved home to join her new husband’s family in a distant village. Then things start to go wrong: Anil makes a medical mistake with tragic results, his first love begins to fray and a devastating event makes him question his worth as a doctor and as a friend. On a visit home, Anil rekindles a friendship with the woman who seems to understand him better than anyone else. But their relationship is complicated by a fateful decision made years earlier.
Stellar follow-up to Gowda’s excellent debut. Vivid, heart-warming, and absorbing, The Golden Son succeeds as an immigrant’s tale and love story wrapped into one because of the beautiful writing and compelling characters that illuminate universal truths of loss and identity. (Heidi Durrow, New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky)
Teandi Hinchu – The Hairdresser of Harare
Like very good dark chocolate this is a delicious novel, with a bitter-sweet flavour. Vimbai is a hairdresser, the best in Mrs Khumalo’s salon, and she knows she is the queen on whom they all depend. Her situation is reversed when the good-looking, smooth-talking Dumisani joins them. However, his charm and desire to please slowly erode Vimbai’s rancour and when he needs somewhere to live, Vimbai becomes his landlady. So, when Dumisani needs someone to accompany him to his brother’s wedding to help smooth over a family upset, Vimbai obliges. Startled to find that this smart hairdresser is the scion of one of the wealthiest families in Harare, she is equally surprised by the warmth of their welcome; and it is their subsequent generosity which appears to foster the relationship between the two young people. The ambiguity of this deepening friendship – used or embraced by Dumisani and Vimbai with different futures in mind – collapses in unexpected brutality when secrets and jealousies are exposed. Written with delightful humour and a penetrating eye, The Hairdresser of Harare is a novel that you will find hard to put down.
Eowyn Ivey – The Snow Child
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
“The real magic of The Snow Child is that it’s never as simple as it seems, never moves exactly in the direction you think it must…Sad as the story often is, with its haunting fairy-tale ending, what I remember best are the scenes of unabashed joy.”?Ron Charles,Washington Post
Wab Kinew – The Reason You Walk
When his father was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, Winnipeg broadcaster and musician Wab Kinew decided to spend a year reconnecting with the accomplished but distant aboriginal man who’d raised him. The Reason You Walk spans the year 2012, chronicling painful moments in the past and celebrating renewed hopes and dreams for the future. As Kinew revisits his own childhood in Winnipeg and on a reserve in Northern Ontario, he learns more about his father’s traumatic childhood at residential school. An intriguing doubleness marks The Reason You Walk, a reference to an Anishinaabe ceremonial song. Born to an Anishinaabe father and a non-native mother, he has a foot in both cultures. He is a Sundancer, an academic, a former rapper, a hereditary chief, and an urban activist. His father, Tobasonakwut, was both a beloved traditional chief and a respected elected leader who engaged directly with Ottawa. Internally divided, his father embraced both traditional native religion and Catholicism, the religion that was inculcated into him at the residential school where he was physically and sexually abused. In a grand gesture of reconciliation, Kinew’s father invited the Roman Catholic bishop of Winnipeg to a Sundance ceremony in which he adopted him as his brother. Kinew writes affectingly of his own struggles in his twenties to find the right path, eventually giving up a self-destructive lifestyle to passionately pursue music and martial arts. From his unique vantage point, he offers an inside view of what it means to be an educated aboriginal living in a country that is just beginning to wake up to its aboriginal history and living presence.
Invoking hope, healing and forgiveness, The Reason You Walk is a poignant story of a towering but damaged father and his son as they embark on a journey to repair their family bond. By turns lighthearted and solemn, Kinew gives us an inspiring vision for family and cross-cultural reconciliation, and a wider conversation about the future of aboriginal peoples.
“Witness the thrilling rise of not only a First Nations star but a Canadian one. The Reason You Walk points the way toward a new era of reconciliation and redemption – and shows us how a man who’s anchored by his language, his culture and his family is unstoppable.” Joseph Boyden
Claire North – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now. As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. ‘I nearly missed you, Doctor August,’ she says. ‘I need to send a message.’ This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.
An astonishing re-invention of the time travel narrative. Bold, magical and masterful.”?Mike Carey
“Wonderful novel… held together by a compelling mystery involving nothing less than the end of the world itself. Beautifully written and structured…a remarkable book.”?Booklist (Starred Review)
Freya North – The Turning Point
There are moments in life that define us. What matters is how we choose to carry on. Two single parents, Scott and Frankie, meet by chance. Their homes are thousands of miles apart: Frankie lives amid mess and chaos with her children on the shoreline of North Norfolk, while Scott’s life is in the mountains of British Columbia. Distance divides them – but it seems that a million little things connect them. A spark ignites, one so strong that it dares them to take a risk. But fate has one more trick in store…There are some truths about life and family we only learn when we grow up. There are some we never thought we’d have to.
‘An emotional tale about finding love in unexpected places’ The Herald