(The following article first appeared on the Atlantic Books Today website. Some of the comments are culled from reviews that appeared here at TMR this year.)
It has been a watershed year for Atlantic Canadian Books. You will find 180 of them in the #GiftAtlantic collection. The books there cover all genres and age ranges, with dozens of choices in each category. Distilling this down to 10 standout ones is a herculean task, but here are my personal favourites (in no particular order):
- Kimmy & Mike by Dave Paddon (Running the Goat Books) is a children’s picture book about a brother and sister who head off to sea to bring back something for their mother to cook for their father for dinner. They are not having much luck, so they continue travelling the seas around the world, as far as Hawaii and Australia running into silly situations along the way, but still not finding anything for their mother to cook. The rhyming paired with the funny series of events entertains all readers.
- Constant Nobody by Michelle Butler Hallett (Goose Lane Editions). As we have seen in her previous books, nothing falls outside the scope of Michelle Butler Hallett’s huge talent. In this novel, she explores the psychology of fear as few are able and does so with absolute confidence.
- Such Miracles and Mischiefs by Trudy Morgan-Cole (Breakwater Books). Ms. Morgan-Cole is another excellent Newfoundland storyteller and this, Book Two of the Cupids Trilogy, picks right up from the closing pages of A Roll of the Bones. A fight for the existence of the small colony of Cupid’s Cove as well as two lovers separated by pirate-filled oceans makes some of the best historical fiction of the year.
- The Sound of Fire by Renée Belliveau (Nimbus Publishing). In her splendidly engrossing and poignant novel Renée Belliveau recalls a true event that brought tragedy to a small town in the Maritimes. In December 1941, with WWII spreading devastation across Europe and fear across the rest of the world, a fire gutted the men’s residence at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. Many were injured. Four young men died.
- A Womb in the Shape of a Heart by Joanne Gallant (Nimbus Publishing) A Womb in the Shape of a Heart is not so much about the issues of multiple miscarriages and eventual motherhood, but about the humanity of personal trauma. She is an astonishingly good writer, which for a first book is a premium. Her imagery and her descriptions of her internal turmoil and constant grief after so many miscarriages are never tiresome, but they are emotionally exhausting for the reader. An extremely personal account, and one not to be missed.
- The Stolen Ones by Ida Linehan Young (Flanker Press)The Stolen Ones by Ida Linehan Young is a modern-day story of love and loss, heartbreak and healing and provides proof that knowing one’s roots can serve as a powerful antidote against adverse life experiences.
- Somebeachsomewhere by Marjorie Simmins (Nimbus Publishing) Great writing, an exciting story, interesting places and people, all go into making Somebeachsomewhere an exceptional book to read, whether you are a fan of horse racing or not.
- Unfiltered: An Irreverent History of Beer in Nova Scotia by Steven Laffoley (Pottersfield Press) What makes Unfiltered unique is the collection of facts and stories recounted while the author drinks his ale, served by some technologically distracted servers at local taverns. The entire book is a literal thirst trap, so I’d recommend investing in one of your local favourite craft beers while you enjoy a fun (and funny!) course that includes forays into temperance, the reasons why different types of beer are served in different shaped glasses, and the cast of notorious and not-so-infamous characters who collectively seeded Halifax as the pub capital of Canada.
- The Last Time I Saw Her by Alexandra Harrington (Nimbus Publishing) A year after leaving town without warning, Charlotte Romer returns home to River John, Nova Scotia. She left behind her only remaining family member, her brother Sean, who struggles to keep the lights on and food in the fridge, but remains a staunchly protective older brother. She also left behind her best friend Sophie, who was recovering from a life-changing accident and felt abandoned when Charlotte disappeared. Filled with mystery and drama, The Last Time I Saw Her by Alexandra Harrington was this summer’s young adult novel to read.
- Images of Keji Country by Donald R. Pentz (SSP Publications)Don Pentz has a long history—60 years—as a naturalist, woodsman, park interpreter and artist in the Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia. In this collection, gorgeous watercolours illuminate the pristine beauty of “Keji” and pay homage to sacred Mi’kmaq territory.