I read a lot. It’s part of my job to do book reviews, but truth be told I’d probably read a lot even if it wasn’t. This means, lucky for my friends, I usually have a book (or five) to recommend at any given time. But, as with anything, it’s nice to get a second opinion. So I asked a few book lovers what their own recommendations are this year—and they did not disappoint. From a heartfelt comeback to a swift exit, this list offers up the best of the year. Make sure to add these titles to your must-read list stat.
There There by Tommy Orange
“By now you’ve encountered one, or more, of the very many critical reviews telling you that Tommy Orange’s There There is the groundbreaking portrait of urban indigeneity that the world has been waiting for. Well, believe them. Interconnecting the multigenerational stories and struggles of twelve diverse characters, There There conveys scenes of contemporary urban Indigenous life with eloquence, immediacy and power. It considers the weight and fallout of colonial history on generations of Indigenous identity, and what recovery and resilience looks like right now. All, at an electrifying, and eventually, ominous pace that will make your heart pound. Sometimes you read a novel that you can just feel is important – it grabs you and holds you so tight in its grip that you’re not sure how or when it will let you go. There There is that kind of novel.” – Tonia Addison, publicity manager at Penguin Random House Canada
Katerina by James Frey
“I have to admit something. I’ve never read A Million Little Pieces, James Frey’s much-maligned first novel that was marketed as a memoir and I don’t care too much about the controversy. I understand that people felt lied to (it wasn’t actually a memoir because it wasn’t strictly true—how dare he), but I think that the line between novel and memoir is a pretty fuzzy one at best and memory is an unreliable thing anyway. I don’t believe in absolute truth—only personal truth and the way a story (“true” or “fictional”) can make you feel. And the remarkable thing about Katerina is that it’s marketed as a novel, but it feels like a memoir and feels like it contains wonderful truths about the human condition.
Katerina is the story of a successful middle-aged writer who has been shunned by the literary community (for something that sounds awfully similar to the A Million Little Pieces scandal) and takes time to reflect on his years in Paris as a fledgling novelist and addict (all things that happened to James Frey). In the present, his spirit is dying and he wishes that his body would, too. In the past, he’s filled with passion—especially for a young woman named Katerina. The novel spans decades as he revisits the love story that changed the trajectory of his whole life and the woman who eventually reappears to revive him.
James Frey’s latest offering is a wonderfully intense portrayal of youth, art, love—and an exploration of Paris, too. It’s a torrent of poetry released onto a desert plain and I recommend that you (that’s everyone!) soak it all in.” – Andrea Karr, writer and editor
Women Talking by Miriam Toews and Vox by Christina Dalcher
“Recently, it was my turn to choose my book club’s next read, and, in true fashion (I always have at least four books on the go) I couldn’t decide on just one. So I choose Women Talking by Miriam Toews and Vox by Christina Dalcher. After reading both, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. Women Talking is based on a true story and reflects the title: a group of Mormon women meet in a barn loft over the course of two days to decide how to handle a shared and profound sexual assault trauma. This is a book full of women’s voices, and it’s magnificent, frustrating, sad, and hopeful. Vox is more commercial in style; its pace kept me up all night. From the opening pages I felt the stirrings of panic. In Vox, women’s voices are taken away by government regulations. Perhaps the idea of being forced to wear a bracelet that tracks the words you speak and delivers an electrical shock you if you go over 100 is a farfetched concept—or perhaps it’s a little too close to the truth of the world we live in today. I think everyone should read both these books, first to see how important women’s voices are—and the voices of all people who have had something taken away from them by a trauma—and then to consider what a world without women’s voices would be like, and how important it is to keep fighting to be heard.” – Marissa Stapely, author and journalist
French Exit by Patrick DeWitt
“My recommendation is French Exit by Patrick DeWitt. It’s a savory, deliciously dark comedy of manners involving a scandal-beset society widow, her hapless adult son, and the family cat, Small Frank. A perfect read for those who relish novels with sharp wit, crackling dialogue, a Paris setting and more champagne than is probably entirely healthy… and did I mention there’s a cat?” – Laura Meyer, publicity director at House of Anansi Press
Shrewed by Elizabeth Renzetti
“I’m not a huge fan of non-fiction or essays, so when I tell you that one of the very best books I read this year was both, you can be assured it’s a must-read. Elizabeth Renzetti’s SHREWED is exactly as the tagline states: a wry and closely observed look at the lives of women and girls. In the thick of the #metoo movement, I think it’s important to make the time, as women, to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. How far we’ve come, and just how much work there still is to do. With a decades-long career in journalism, Toronto-based Renzetti has more than all the facts; she also has valuable insight, a clear voice and hilarious anecdotes. I loved that the stories made me think and laugh, because frankly, if you can’t also laugh, what else can you do?” – Chantel Guertin, bestselling author of six novels including the Pippa Greene series for young adults
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
“An incredible investigation into the Golden State Killer, the late Michelle McNamara fearlessly explored the circumstances of what was formerly an unsolved case—as well as the system that upheld the culture he thrived in. And while the suspect (Joseph James DeAngelo) was arrested in April and the book was completed by McNamara’s collaborators after her passing, it’s still a vital, moving, and necessary read. I couldn’t put it down, and I’m so sad we don’t have more books by Michelle to look forward to.” – Anne T. Donahue, author and writer
Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey
“For me, Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey is so much more than a book about a cult set in the 80s… it is poetic, emotional, and an absolute masterpiece. This story bleeds everything that makes Claudia who she is, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The narrative is told from three different perspectives—one of them being a dog—and each character is so raw and true to themselves. It’s the book I wish I could have worked on myself.” – Deanna Norlock, publicity assistant at HarperCollins Canada
Tin Man by Sarah Winman
“If there is any one book that I would recommend to read this year, Sarah Winman’s Tin Man is one that is not to be missed. I’ve been sharing this book with everyone because it is a beautiful story of grief and love that will touch readers’ hearts. This elegantly crafted novel explores the true essence of humanity and explores the raw emotions experienced throughout the process of self-discovery. The characters Ellis, Michael, and Annie leap off the page as Winman weaves a powerful and enthralling tale about the realities of life that will bring you to tears.” – Jaaron Collins, blogger and book reviewer at Worn Pages & Ink
(Story by Contributing Editor, Alexandra Donaldson)