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Usually on our birthdays we talk about our favourite reads, but this year, we turned it over to you, our readers. See what books ALU readers loved over the last year.
Showing 1–16 of 22 results
In a world subtly like and unlike our own, buttoned-down HR manager Hector Thompson is sure of two things: he hates both change and science fiction. But then lurid green streamers drift from the sky in an escaped experiment and birds and animals fall to the ground as their bodies stretch and change and grow. It’s an apocalypse. Or is it?
Now Hector works in a company with detail-oriented pigeons for project managers while shifts of dependable dogs work round the clock in orange safety vests building housing for earth’s newest inhabitants. In a dizzying mix of imagination and wry social commentary, author Mark Sampson creates a believable world with an unbelievable future and takes his readers on a road trip across a remarkable vision of America as his Everyman finds his role in this strange new reality.
Finalist for the 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction
Longlisted for the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize
Winner of the 2022 Indigenous Voices Awards’ Published Prose in English Prize
Shortlisted for the 2022 Amazon Canada First Novel Award
Longlisted for CBC Canada Reads 2022
Longlisted for First Nations Community Reads 2022
An Indigo Top 100 Book of 2021
An Indigo Top 10 Best Canadian Fiction Book of 2021
“What a welcome debut. Young Eddie Toma’s passage through the truly ugly parts of this world is met, like an antidote, or perhaps a compensation, by his remarkable awareness of its beauty. This is a writer who understands youth, and how to tell a story.” —Gil Adamson, winner of the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for Ridgerunner
Brian Isaac’s powerful debut novel All the Quiet Places is the coming-of-age story of Eddie Toma, an Indigenous (Syilx) boy, told through the young narrator’s wide-eyed observations of the world around him.
It’s 1956, and six-year-old Eddie Toma lives with his mother, Grace, and his little brother, Lewis, near the Salmon River on the far edge of the Okanagan Indian Reserve in the British Columbia Southern Interior. Grace, her friend Isabel, Isabel’s husband Ray, and his nephew Gregory cross the border to work as summer farm labourers in Washington state. There Eddie is free to spend long days with Gregory exploring the farm: climbing a hill to watch the sunset and listening to the wind in the grass. The boys learn from Ray’s funny and dark stories. But when tragedy strikes, Eddie returns home grief-stricken, confused, and lonely.
Eddie’s life is governed by the decisions of the adults around him. Grace is determined to have him learn the ways of the white world by sending him to school in the small community of Falkland. On Eddie”s first day of school, as he crosses the reserve boundary at the Salmon River bridge, he leaves behind his world. Grace challenges the Indian Agent and writes futile letters to Ottawa to protest the sparse resources in their community. His father returns to the family after years away only to bring chaos and instability. Isabel and Ray join them in an overcrowded house. Only in his grandmother’s company does he find solace and true companionship.
In his teens, Eddie’s future seems more secure—he finds a job, and his long-time crush on his white neighbour Eva is finally reciprocated. But every time things look up, circumstances beyond his control crash down around him. The cumulative effects of guilt, grief, and despair threaten everything Eddie has ever known or loved.
All the Quiet Places is the story of what can happen when every adult in a person’s life has been affected by colonialism; it tells of the acute separation from culture that can occur even at home in a loved familiar landscape. Its narrative power relies on the unguarded, unsentimental witness provided by Eddie.
And This Is the Cure follows Allison Winter, public radio pop-culture journalist and former riot grrrrrl as she regains custody of her adolescent daughter, Hanna, following the murder of her ex-husband. She is unprepared to deal with either the demands of parenting or the fury of her ex-husband’s religiously conservative, grieving family, so she pulls up roots and moves Hanna from Winnipeg to Toronto.
Allison’s sweet-natured partner, Eden, struggles to take on the day-to-day parenting while Allison resumes her career and avoids the chaos building at home. Despite all efforts, tensions swell and Hanna’s rage over her disrupted life eventually erupts in episodes of violence.
Allison’s past histories – as a frontwoman for a riot grrrrrl band and her earlier history as a runaway from a conservative Christian family – return to haunt her present life. Her former bandmates want to reunite for a tour of Japan, and her sister demands help in caring for their difficult and aging mother. Allison decides it would be best for them all to return to Winnipeg, but this only sparks a whole new chapter of familial conflict, and precipitates a disastrous event that forces Allison to confront her estranged relationship with her mother and come to terms with her own troubled past.
And This Is the Cure is a novel about the weight of unresolved baggage – its pain and trauma – and working through the process of healing and moving on.
LONGLISTED FOR THE PAT LOWTHER MEMORIAL AWARD
From the author of The Baudelaire Fractal, a poetry classic, with new work
In 2004, boldly original poet Lisa Robertson published a chapbook, Rousseau’s Boat, poems culled from years of notebooks that are, nevertheless, by no means autobiographical. In 2010, she expanded the work into a full-length book, R’s Boat. During the pandemic, she was drawn back into decades of journals to shape Boat. These poems bring fresh vehemence to Robertson’s ongoing examination of the changing shape of feminism, the male-dominated philosophical tradition, the daily forms of discourse, and the possibilities of language itself.
“Robertson has quietly but surely emerged as one of our most exciting and prolific philosophers—I mean poets. Interested in architecture, weather systems, fashion, autobiography, gender, the classics, and just about everything else, she manages to irradiate her subjects with calm, wit, and astonishing beauty. Robertson’s style is both on splendid display and under fierce interrogation in her latest book, R’s Boat.” —Kenyon Review
“In R’s Boat, Robertson has penned a post-conceptual, post-lyric, relentlessly self-examining performance of memory and sincerity that manages, remarkably, to be both theoretically concerned and deeply emotive.” —Harvard Review
“R’s Boat grapples with form, the constraint of language and tradition, and the challenge to avoid anything that might exist as template. The poems examine feminism, discourse, the body, and poetry itself through sumptuous, seductive language.” —American Poets
2021 CANADA READS FINALIST
Winner, Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ2S+ Emerging Writers (Writers’ Trust of Canada); Longlisted for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize; finalist, Governor General’s Literary Award; finalist, Amazon Canada First Novel Award; finalist, Lambda Literary Award
An intergenerational saga about three Nigerian women: a novel about food, family, and forgiveness.
Butter Honey Pig Bread is a story of choices and their consequences, of motherhood, of the malleable line between the spirit and the mind, of finding new homes and mending old ones, of voracious appetites, of queer love, of friendship, faith, and above all, family.
francesca ekwuyasi’s debut novel tells the interwoven stories of twin sisters, Kehinde and Taiye, and their mother, Kambirinachi. Kambirinachi feels she was born an Ogbanje, a spirit that plagues families with misfortune by dying in childhood to cause its mother misery. She believes that she has made the unnatural choice of staying alive to love her human family and now lives in fear of the consequences of that decision.
Some of Kambirinachi’s worst fears come true when her daughter, Kehinde, experiences a devasting childhood trauma that causes the family to fracture in seemingly irreversible ways. As soon as she’s of age, Kehinde moves away and cuts contact with her twin sister and mother. Alone in Montreal, she struggles to find ways to heal while building a life of her own. Meanwhile, Taiye, plagued by guilt for what happened to her sister, flees to London and attempts to numb the loss of the relationship with her twin through reckless hedonism.
Now, after more than a decade of living apart, Taiye and Kehinde have returned home to Lagos to visit their mother. It is here that the three women must face each other and address the wounds of the past if they are to reconcile and move forward.
When Tarah Schwartz miscarried for the first time at almost 5 months, she assumed this would be just a blip on the way to motherhood. But more miscarriages would follow, threatening her stability, her relationships, and changing her profoundly. In this memoir, Tarah puts words to excruciating loss as she recounts her unexpected and deeply inspiring journey to motherhood. As a longtime news reporter, she spent years working in front of a television camera, telling stories that reflected the power of the human spirit to survive. This time she tells her own.
The year Paul turns forty, his friends Wendy and Eve ask him to help them get pregnant. Nothing about the process feels natural to him. But for a gay man of a certain age, making a family still means finding your own way through a world with few ready answers. The eighteen-month journey reveals many insights about Paul’s past and present, from his strained relationship to his father, his overprotective relationship with his partner Michael, and the many friends around him whom he considers his family.
“In Humane, Anna Marie Sewell’s brings an Indigenous and poetic sensibility to the crime novel, infusing it with imagery and dance as a Métis mother of two works as an unlicensed Private Investigator. Like its Métis characters, Humane straddles two worlds, following the contours of Western-based novel but infusing it with Indigenous storytelling and allegory. It’s a wonderful read, a significant addition to the canon of authentic Indigenous crime novel.” –Wayne Arthurson, award-winning writer of the Leo Desroches novels.
Who steals a dog from a shelter after receiving a dream message from their grandmother?
Hazel Lesage never expected it to be her. Then again, she didn’t plan on becoming an unlicensed PI, helping the ‘throwaway people.’ However much has changed in Amiskwaciy, the problem of poor Indigenous women and girls being expendable hasn’t. Nobody else is going to help the Augusts find out who killed their daughter Nell; so Hazel takes the case. And then she takes the dog.
What follows will force Hazel and her family to confront the question of what it means to be Human, and what it matters to be Humane.
In her debut collection of short stories, Islands of Decolonial Love, renowned writer and activist Leanne Simpson vividly explores the lives of contemporary Indigenous Peoples and communities, especially those of her own Nishnaabeg nation. Found on reserves, in cities and small towns, in bars and curling rinks, canoes and community centres, doctors offices and pickup trucks, Simpson’s characters confront the often heartbreaking challenge of pairing the desire to live loving and observant lives with a constant struggle to simply survive the historical and ongoing injustices of racism and colonialism. Told with voices that are rarely recorded but need to be heard, and incorporating the language and history of her people, Leanne Simpson’s Islands of Decolonial Love is a profound, important, and beautiful book of fiction.
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 tour-de-force debut novel about a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer young man and proud NDN glitter princess who must reckon with his past when he returns home to his reserve.
“You’re gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine” is a mantra that Jonny Appleseed, a young Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer, repeats to himself in this vivid and utterly compelling debut novel by poet Joshua Whitehead.
Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the “rez”–and his former life–to attend the funeral of his stepfather. The seven days that follow are like a fevered dream: stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition, and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum (grandmother). Jonny’s life is a series of breakages, appendages, and linkages–and as he goes through the motions of preparing to return home, he learns how to put together the pieces of his life.
Jonny Appleseed is a unique, shattering vision of First Nations life, full of grit, glitter, and dreams.
Grace Porter is reeling from grief after her partner of seven years unexpectedly leaves. Amidst her heartache, the thirty-year-old library tech is tasked with reading newly discovered letters that Amelia Earhart wrote to her lover, Gene Vidal. She becomes captivated by the famous pilot who disappeared in 1937. Letter by letter, Grace understands more about Amelia while piecing her own life back together.
When Grace discovers she is pregnant, her life becomes more intertwined with the aviation hero and she begins to write her own letters to Amelia. While navigating her third trimester—amidst new conspiracy theories about Amelia’s mysterious disappearance, the search for her remains, and the impending publication of her private letters—Grace goes on a pilgrimage of her own.
Underscoring the power of reading and writing letters for self-discovery, Letters to Amelia is, above all, a story of the essential need for connection—and our universal ability to find hope in the face of fear.
Nadia Eid doesn’t know it yet, but she’s about to change her life. It’s the end of the ’80s and she hasn’t seen her Palestinian father since he left Montreal years ago to take a job in Egypt, promising to bring her with him. But now she’s twenty-five and he’s missing in action, so she takes matters into her own hands. Booking a short vacation from her boring job and Québecois boyfriend, she calls her father from the Nile Hilton in downtown Cairo. But nothing goes as planned and, stumbling around, Nadia wanders into an art gallery where she meets Manal, a young Egyptian artist who becomes first her guide and then her lover. Through this unexpected relationship, Nadia rediscovers her roots, her language, and her ambitions, as her father demonstrates the unavoidable destiny of becoming a Philistine – the Arabic word for Palestinian. With Manal’s career poised to take off and her father’s secret life revealed, the First Intifada erupts across the border. Nadia needs to decide what all this has to do with her.
Sales and Market Bullets
Shifting restlessly from dark to light and back again, written in lithe, precise prose, the stories in Phoebe Tsang’s Setting Fire to Water illuminate the lives of those who exist inside otherness.
A young Asian woman, an artistic over-achiever turned drifter, endures a mind-bending night of reckoning as she struggles to find her way “home,” careening between flirtation and thievery, dream and memory. A reality TV star obsesses about the real stain that blemishes the set of her fake, made-for-TV life. A modern fairytale is told from the point of view of a fox having an argument with its enemy, hunger. A heart-broken accountant goes on a pilgrimage to India to get his fire back, and his attempt to ask for mercy from the most holy of rivers fizzles like his former fiancée’s tepid devotion.
These seventeen stories unfold outside the Canadian mainstream, where longing—for home, for love, for artistic achievement, for spiritual fulfillment—is a given, and acceptance—of self, of the knowability of others, of the limits to knowing—is always in question. Using unconventional storylines and slippages in time and space, these stories explore the mystical possibilities inherent in contemporary life.
“A poem is never finished, only abandoned,” wrote French poet Paul Valéry, an outcome echoed in the ten year on/off extramarital affair between Katharine, a film editor and Naomi, a lesbian poet. Set in New York in the 90s, art, addiction and family dysfunction culminate in Katharine’s attempt to reconcile her marriage. When her love for the poet prevails, she must face the confrontations with her two grown daughters, a visual artist and an aspiring writer, mired in addiction.
Art is front and centre in the novel. The forces that work against us, as we long to love and be loved, are the forces that work against us as we confront the artistic process. The artist’s struggle to reach the potential in her work parallels the struggle for intimacy to reach the potential in her relationships. In the final analysis, the artistic process is as risky, messy and unpredictable as building intimacy and trust in love.
In this wide-ranging collection of essays Tanis MacDonald walks the reader down many paths, pointing out the sights, exclaiming over birds, sharing stories and asking questions about just who gets to walk freely through our cities, parks and wilderness. Deer move mysteriously through these essays, knowing just when they vanish from sight, as do predators, both human and animal. She walks to begin to understand the place she now calls home in Southern Ontario, catalogues the fauna around her in FaunaWatch and continues walking through illness. From a child spotting a snowy owl on her way to school in Winnipeg, to a young woman watching her own distinctive walk be imitated in an acting class, to a worried daughter helping her mother relearn how to walk after a bad fall on a busy road, MacDonald shares how walking has shaped her life and the lives of many others. Wry, smart, political and lyrical, these essays share the joy of walking as well its danger and uncovers the promise it offers – of healing, of companionship and of understanding.