Of Canada’s thirteen provinces and territories, New Brunswick’s population sits near the middle at #8, just behind Nova Scotia and ahead of PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador. Yet, despite its small population (well under 800,000), there is a wealth of good books either being written by authors based in New Brunswick or books about the “picture province” some even are published here.
The books in this “Top New Brunswick Books of 2020” list cover all ages and tastes and will give you an idea of the diversity of voices – both young and old – that emanate from here. This list includes fiction for young readers as well as mature ones, and non-fiction titles concerning New Brunswick, and its history, people, and geography.
When the Hill Came Down by Susan White (Acorn Press)
When the Hill Came Down is a book suitable for mature teen readers on up. It is set in the Kingston Peninsula and goes back and forth in time to tell the story of Keefe Williams, who was orphaned as a young child when his house was destroyed in a mudslide, killing both his parents. He was then raised by an unloving uncle and aunt, which left him emotionally scarred and a target of school bullies. It is in high school, he meets Summer Barkley, a newcomer to the peninsula and a strong relationship is formed. It is Summer who wants to reconcile Keefe’s past to his present, so it is her that tells Keefe’s story. New Brunswick author Susan White writes well-constructed stories, and When the Hill Came Down is no exception. I love her storytelling for it has a natural seriousness about it; very grounded, with characters that could well be drawn from real life. The situations that the protagonists (and even the antagonists) encounter is full of life lessons, making her stories trustworthy and wholesome. I highly recommend her books.
Death Between the Walls: An Old Manse Mystery by Alexa Bowie (Independently Published)
Alex Bowie is actually a nom de plume of Miramichi author Chuck Bowie, and this is the first in a series of “cozy mysteries” that she intends to write. The “Old Manse Mystery Series” is set in a town not unlike Newcastle where Emma Andrews finds herself in possession of the aforementioned “Old Manse” which was her family’s home until recently. After a body is found within it’s walls during a renovation, Emma is drawn into a web of mystery, romance and old secrets. Ideal reading for a winter’s night!
Winter Road by Wayne Curtis (Pottersfield Press)
Speaking of winter, the new collection of short stories by Wayne Curtis (yet another Miramichier) is a continuation of his 2017 collection, Homecoming: The Road Less Travelled. The classic storytelling Wayne Curtis is all here: reminiscences of glory days gone by, of a world that has changed, of growing older, though perhaps not all that much wiser. They are written by a man who grew up in rural New Brunswick, left for a time, but always returned to the place his heart was.
Fixing Broken Things by Gregory M. Cook (Pottersfield Press)
While reading Fixing Broken Things I kept glancing over my shoulder, wondering if the author was there, describing precisely what I was experiencing. Tableside books replaced a wintertime puzzle, the change in season curbing my appetite for dark weather pastimes.
Rarely have I had such a jarring sense of connection with an author I didn’t think I knew. Now I believe I was mistaken, in fact having had an intimate series of shares with a friend. A friend I simply haven’t yet met. Perfect for fans of the short story genre.
The Hush Sisters by Gerard Collins (Breakwater Books)
Getting lost in a book is always a joy, but falling into The Hush Sisters was a truly wonderful escape in a year like 2020. The fluctuating tension and love between Sissy and Ava Hush give a real-world grounding to the eerie memories of their childhood and the unnerving presences lingering in their home. With each new ghost, creepy space, and heated argument, I became more invested in the dark drama. What did Ava want Sissy to know? What happened between Sissy and her husband? From where (or is it whom) did the house get its aura? The Hush Sisters snagged me early on and had me gripped until the final pages.
Young Readers/Young Adult
Journey to the Hopewell Star by Hannah D. State (Glowing Light Press)
In the near-to-middle future where Journey to the Hopewell Star takes place, interplanetary space travel exists, as well as the realization that there are other inhabitants of the universe, such as the Krygians, who have been monitoring Earth for some time but are becoming increasingly concerned about environmental injustices that continue to eradicate species at an alarming rate. Journey to the Hopewell Star is written by New Brunswick author Hannah D. State and is an excellent middle-grade reader that is full of adventure, time travel and environmental issues that are occurring in Sam Sanderson’s home province of New Brunswick as well as on the planet of Kryg. It is well-written, and even this mature-reader enjoyed it.
You Were Never Here by Kathleen Peacock (HarperTeen)
New Brunswick author Kathleen Peacock has written one of the most talked-about books of 2020; having made the Globe & Mail’s Top 100 Books of 2020 in the Young Adult category. Don’t let the categorization of this novel fool you though, for this mature adult reader thoroughly enjoyed it. Ms. Peacock herself describes writing You Were Never Here: “I started feeling like I was writing some strange love letter to all those New Brunswick summers I spent reading Stephen King books as a teen.” A five-star read for any age!
Restigouche: The Long Run of the Wild River by Philip Lee (Goose Lane Editions)
In Restigouche, Philip Lee takes us along this mighty river, each bend and turn akin to life.
The Restigouche River flows through the remote border region … of Quebec and New Brunswick, its magically transparent waters, soaring forest hillsides, and population of Atlantic salmon creating one of the most storied wild spaces on the continent.
Learning this land’s history remains invaluable. This is present-day exploration, research and experience we need now more than ever. And naturally, for the good of our environment. This book is an enlightenment, a flow of storytelling and insight through topography, literally, by way of a river called Restigouche.
The Fiddlehead Moment: Pioneering an Alternative Canadian Modernism in New Brunswick by Tony Tremblay (McGill-Queen’s University Press)
This book provides a much-needed history of literary modernism in New Brunswick. Tremblay’s text is well-researched and clearly written, and I enjoyed its tone—at once both academic and conversational. Alongside its geography, New Brunswick’s social, cultural, and political histories are outlined as influential to a unique wave of writing and cultural criticism in Canada. The vision and hard work of key thinkers, like A.G. Bailey, Desmond Pacey, and Fred Cogswell, are celebrated, and the establishment of the Fiddlehead School is underscored as key to securing New Brunswick’s place in national and international cultural spheres. I love learning new things about New Brunswick, and The Fiddlehead Moment offered wonderful insight into the role of local critics and poets in shaping innovative and non-urban modernism in Canada.
The Miramichi Fire: A History by Alan MacEachern
I love history, and I enjoy it all the more when an authoritative author such as Mr. MacEachern (who is a professor at the University of Western Ontario) takes a deep dive into a subject regarding which there is a dearth of material. The Miramichi Fire of 1825 is just such a subject. It is one of the largest fires in North American history, yet it has been all but forgotten. Nevertheless, Mr. MacEachern manages to collate all available references from both sides of the Atlantic and, by applying his knowledge of environmental history, manages to create an extremely readable and engaging text on this little-known part of Canadian history.
*This article was originally written for Atlantic Books and was published at their site on December 14, 2020.
James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.
Gemma Marr (she/her) was born and raised in rural New Brunswick. After over a decade away, she is excited to return to the province to teach in the Department of Humanities and Languages at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. Her research focuses on the intersections of place, gender, and sexuality in Atlantic Canadian literature and culture. She is an avid reader and writer who enjoys books from a range of genres and styles.
Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of the Gone Viking travel memoirs (Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, Gone Viking III: The Holy Grail) and A Season on Vancouver Island. He’s won numerous book awards and received a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.