The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue’s startlingly prescient novel, The Pull of the Stars, is set in a Dublin maternity ward during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Specifically, the action takes place over three days beginning on October 31, the day before the novel’s main character, Nurse Julia Power, will turn thirty.

The hospital where Julia works—ravaged by the effects of the war as well as the worsening pandemic—is impoverished, understaffed and in a perpetual state of crisis (her “ward” is actually a converted supply room with space for three beds reserved for women sick with the flu who are about to give birth).…

One for the Rock by Kevin Major

In One for the Rock, his first venture into crime fiction, Kevin Major has written a fast-paced and highly enjoyable novel that will appeal to fans of the genre, but which also offers the dual bonus of an engaging narrator and a vividly rendered St. John’s, Newfoundland setting. Recently divorced ex-teacher Sebastian Synard runs a tour operation, St. John’s landmarks being his specialty.…

The Lightning of Possible Storms by Jonathan Ball

Jonathan Ball’s short fiction collection, The Lightning of Possible Storms, is a volume that exults in the many ways in which it confounds expectations and keeps the reader off-balance. Ball’s stories are brashly eccentric, cynical, surreal and delightfully subversive metafictions.

In a manoeuvre that one does not often encounter in volumes of short fiction, Ball employs a framing device. The dedication reads, “For Aleya, who will learn why.”…

Fontainebleu by Madeline Sonik

The world of Madeline Sonik’s unsettling volume of short fiction, the town of Fontainebleau, is menacing, tragic, violent and surreal. These seventeen linked stories chronicle the traumas, tormented longings and reckless escapades of the anguished adults, freaks of nature, psychos, juvenile delinquents, lost and frightened children, and at least one haunted police officer, who live there. Fontainebleau is a dead-end place, blighted, ill-starred, ramshackle and dangerous: a place that breeds desperation and engenders boredom, despair, sometimes wild and irrational hope, among its unlucky inhabitants—a place that people escape from rather than to—a place where a dead body, sawn in half, turns up in the river.…

The Sweetness in the Lime by Stephen Kimber

Eli Cooper, a confirmed bachelor in his mid-fifties, a stick-in-the-mud type who dislikes change and disruption, has lived an unexciting, emotionally unfulfilled life. For several years he has been caring for his father—a dementia sufferer—at home, against the advice of doctors and his sister Sarah, who believes their father belongs in a care facility. In February 2008, Eli’s thirty-year career as an editor at the Halifax Tribune comes to an end when the parent company shuts down the newspaper.…

Winter Willow: A Novel by Deborah-Anne Tunney

In January 1976, a student named Melanie is dawdling her way through a PhD in English at a Canadian university. She has been researching her thesis for so long that her scholarship funding has run out, and since then has been supporting herself as a writing advisor. But her money situation, already tight, becomes more so when, at a departmental meeting, she learns that budget reductions are forcing the immediate elimination of the writing assistance program, cutting off her only source of income.…

Throw Down Your Shadows by Deborah Hemmings

What does it mean, to do the wrong thing for the right reasons? 16-year-old Winnie, the self-reliant narrator of Deborah Hemming’s taut novel Throw Down Your Shadows, is about to learn that painful lesson. 

It’s summer, 2005. Winnie lives with her artist mother, Ruth, in Gaspereau, a small rural community next door to Wolfville, in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, wine and apple country.…

Saltwater Chronicles: Notes on Everything Under the Nova Scotia Sun by Lesley Choyce

Lesley Choyce has been a mainstay on the Atlantic Canadian literary scene for decades. The author of 100 books, he has written and published in every genre imaginable. He has won and been shortlisted for numerous regional and national literary awards, operates a publishing house, held teaching positions at Dalhousie University and other institutions, and worked as a television presenter. He is an environmentalist, a humanitarian, a surfer, a husband and father, and a tireless advocate for Atlantic Canadian writing and writers.…

Speechless by Anne Simpson

In Anne Simpson’s gripping third novel, Speechless, A’isha Nasir, a Nigerian teenager, has been convicted of adultery and, in keeping with Sharia, or Islamic Law, been sentenced to death by stoning.  

But A’isha’s situation is neither simple nor straightforward. Raped by a man in her village, the fact that she has had a child out of wedlock is the only tangible evidence against her.…

Dark August by Katie Tallo

At the beginning of Dark August, 20-year-old Augusta “Gus” Monet learns that her great-grandmother Rose has died. The death of her only blood relative galvanizes Gus to take charge of her meandering life. She ditches her petty criminal boyfriend Lars and heads back to the small Ontario town where she spent part of her childhood. Gus’s parents were police officers.

Her father died when she was very small.…

The End of Me: Stories by John Gould

In his third collection of very short fiction, Giller Prize finalist (in 2003 for Kilter) John Gould turns his laser focus on death in its infinite variety. A whole book about death might seem intimidating, or, to some, simply depressing. But by approaching the subject from every conceivable angle and constructing his stories using a profusion of refreshing and startling perspectives, Gould keeps his reader guessing and slightly off-balance throughout the volume.…

The Quantum Theory of Love and Madness by Jerry Levy

Jerry Levy’s quirky narratives provide a high-spirited alternative perspective on the crushing emotional isolation and myriad pressures that often accompany modern urban life. The fourteen stories in The Quantum Theory of Love and Madness, Levy’s follow-up to his 2013 collection Urban Legend, also frequently stretch the boundaries of narrative plausibility and occasionally veer into pure fantasy. 

A Diverse Cast of Characters

Levy’s diverse cast of characters includes children and men and women in various age groups, but in his most satisfying and fully realized stories, his protagonists tend to be men in their thirties or forties, aimless and living alone, out of shape, lacking confidence, who have lost their jobs, or else married and cracking under the stress of daily life.…

The Innocents by Michael Crummey

The Innocents is set on Newfoundland’s harsh northern coastline, 100 or more years in the past. The Best family is struggling to establish a homestead in an isolated cove where father Sennet fishes and salts cod and mother Sarah maintains a vegetable patch, cooks and raises the children: Evered, Ada and baby Martha.

Then, in short order one winter, Martha, Sarah and Sennet are all dead from an illness.…

Crocuses Hatch From Snow by Jaime Burnet

Jaime Burnet’s novel tells an urgent, socially relevant story firmly rooted in time and place. Crocuses Hatch From Snow is first and foremost a novel of Halifax, Nova Scotia, one that addresses the good, the bad and the ugly from the city’s, and the province’s, long history and recent past.

The novel opens in October 2007 with three women watching as their house in the city’s south end—a structure that was home for three generations of the family—is being demolished to make room for a new development.…

The Waiting Hours by Shandi Mitchell

The Waiting Hours, Shandi Mitchell’s suspenseful follow-up to her award-winning debut novel, Under This Unbroken Sky, examines the professional and personal lives of people working in crisis response: Mike is a cop, Kate an ER nurse, and Tamara a 911 operator.

The action takes place in an unspecified urban centre, though enough cues are present, and sufficient landmarks mentioned, to make the Halifax/Dartmouth setting obvious to anyone familiar with the city.…