Quill and Quire

Books of the Year

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Canada’s book community shares their favourite titles of 2023

For the third year in a row, the Q&Q team reached out to our reviewers, as well as booksellers and people in the publishing industry across the country to find out which titles from 2023 they’re still thinking about as the year draws to a close. This week, highlights from books for adults, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Away from the Dead
David Bergen
Goose Lane Editions

David Bergen’s Away from the Dead, set in Ukraine during the years of the Russian Revolution and the First World War, chronicles the suffering and resilience of its characters with understated intensity. The novel is bleak but shot through with tenderness; while it is historical fiction, it resonates with our current moment, both because of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, and because of the deep sympathy Bergen evokes for all ordinary people who want only to live their quiet lives in peace. – Rohan Maitzen, academic and reviewer in Halifax

Sunshine Nails
Mai Nguyen
Simon & Schuster

Mai Nguyen’s lighthearted tone heightens the emotional impact of this story about a Vietnamese-Canadian family in danger of losing their nail salon when a flashy American chain moves into their neighbourhood. It’s an all-too-relatable David and Goliath tale of gentrification in Toronto, and a vividly heartfelt illustration of the struggles of keeping both your and your family’s dreams alive, especially as an immigrant family just starting to build a legacy to pass on to future generations. – Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen, reviewer in Toronto

A Grandmother Begins the Story
Michelle Porter
Viking Canada

A Grandmother Begins the Story is the closest a novel can come to the crooked rhythms of a  Métis jig, with its seductive, continually surprising rhythms. Five generations of women re-knit a family history torn by tragedy, addiction, and adoption. Their distinct and stentorian voices are complemented by a chorus of charismatic non-human perspectives, including a lovelorn bison and a soulful old car. Porter is also a poet, and her vivid prose skips and romps, propelling her narrative not so much forward, but outward, weaving an expansive tale of kinship, redemption, and forgiveness. A gorgeous, vibrant, irresistible story. – Michelle Cyca, reviewer in Vancouver

Wasps in the Ice Cream
Tim McGregor
Raw Dog Screaming Press

Set in a small town in 1987, Wasps in the Ice Cream follows a teenage boy who falls for a local witch. It’s not your average coming-of-age story, but that’s what makes this book sparkle. A smart and supernatural story that reminds us we’re all outsiders at heart. – Brian Francis, author and Agony Editor advice columnist in Toronto

Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast
John Vaillant
Knopf Canada

To call Fire Weather a masterpiece doesn’t give it – or John Vaillant – enough credit. Both a scrupulously researched, compellingly written account of the 2016 wildfires that destroyed much of Fort McMurray, Alberta, and a deep dive into the history, politics, and finances that underpin the petroleum industry, Fire Weather is an ecological cri de cœur and easily the most important book of the year. – Robert J. Wiersema, author and reviewer in Victoria

The Short Story Advent Calendar
Hingston & Olsen

I love year-end roundups of favourite books, but when pressed to choose a title myself, it’s a near-impossible task. For this reason, I’ve chosen one of my favourite annual anthologies – a collection that makes me look forward to December with glee. The Short Story Advent Calendar is a box set of 25 individual short stories by established, classic, and emerging writers that are meant to be opened, one by one, on the days leading up to Dec. 25. Each booklet is a surprise, and a delight, making me mourn Boxing Day and the end of the daily story routine every single year. Bonus: there’s a Kids’ Short Story Advent Calendar, too! – Leslie Hurtig, artistic director, Vancouver Writers Festival, Vancouver

Xanax Cowboy
Hannah Green
House of Anansi Press

“Forgive me, but I am too tired to subvert a genre,” claims the poet-speaker in Xanax Cowboy, the debut (and Governor General’s Literary Award–winning) book by Hannah Green. It’s a patently absurd assertion; this volume delights in genre subversion, floating between formalism and the online discourse of Instagram and Google, between references to Judith Butler and Sylvia Plath, Michael Ondaatje and Quentin Tarantino. The twin poles of addiction and identity serve as the anchors for a series of verses that excavate mental illness in the context of persistent – and frequently sexist – tropes in the Hollywood western genre; Green adopts the titular character to confrontationally expose the overlaps between actual experience and cultural mythology. This is an aggressive and electrifying volume.Steven W. Beattie, reviewer in Stratford, Ontario

The Adversary
Michael Crummey
Knopf Canada

Alien, exotic, and darkly seductive, the historical Newfoundland Michael Crummey envisions in novel after novel never fails to captivate. No exception to the rule, The Adversary is a wonder to behold, with writing of a singular beauty and style that relates a brutal, almost biblical – and certainly Rabelaisian – tale of relentless sibling rivalry in the midst of serial plagues, drunken excess, and enough curse words to delight potty mouths from every demographic. – Brett Josef Grubisic, author and reviewer in Salt Spring Island, B.C.

We Meant Well
Erum Shazia Hasan
ECW Press

I thoroughly enjoyed first-time novelist Erum Shazia Hasan’s first novel. Set in the fictional town of Likanni, as well as Los Angeles, Hasan tells the story of Maya. Unhappily married and mother to a young daughter, Maya has worked in international aid for more than a decade. She is called back to Likanni after her colleague, Marc, is accused of assaulting a young woman who works in the office. Whose stories are told? Who is believed? Hasan weaves a complex narrative of the politics of international work, race, power, and motherhood. – Anjula Gogia, bookseller, Another Story Bookshop in Toronto

Naked: The Confessions of a Normal Woman
Éloïse Marseille
Pow Pow Press

I loved Éloïse Marseille’s bracingly honest graphic memoir, Naked, in which she lays bare (pun very much intended) her sexual history, anxieties, and baggage. But it’s not an exploitative or even particularly titillating portrait, just a stark, all too real, at times brutally self-deprecating personal story that resonates on an emotional level while captivating the reader with her cute, deceptively simple drawing style. – Malcolm Fraser, editor, Montreal Review of Books, Montreal

Sing, Nightingale
Marie Hélène Poitras
Coach House Books 

There’s a timeless quality to Sing, Nightingale: a gothic, poetic work about decaying patriarchal secrets and their antidote – hidden in a rural French estate. This feminist revenge tale, with a smattering of magic realism, is beautifully constructed. Perfect for lovers of Angela Carter or Cécile Coulon to delve into on dark nights. – Zoe Grams, Zg Stories and bookseller, Upstart & Crow in Vancouver

The African Samurai
Craig Shreve
Simon & Schuster

Craig Shreve transports us to 16th-century Portuguese East Africa, India, and Japan in one novel. Based on the true story of Yasuke, The African Samurai is a deeply felt work that doesn’t shy away from the violence of slavery and the haunting of identity. – Shazia Hafiz Ramji, poet and reviewer from Vancouver

Xanax Cowboy
Hannah Green
House of Anansi Press

Hannah Green’s Xanax Cowboy rode into CanLit like a blustery show pony capable of all the tricks; it’s confessional, dramatic, profound, complex, and important. That it is a debut collection is astonishingly impressive. It is my absolute must-read poetry of the past year. – Micheline Maylor, poet, editor, and reviewer in Canmore, Alberta

Words of a Goat Princess
Jessie Reyez

I am a 52-year-old bookseller and mom who read a cooler-than-cool, 32-year-old, Juno Award–winning musician’s book of poetry and found phrases that put the world to right. I mean, they also set things off kilter and made me uncomfortable, but that wasn’t so surprising. Being a fan of Jessie Reyez’s music (“Queen St. W.” supremacy), I was prepared for that. If you only want a peek, don’t miss “Peace,” “Ghost,” and “A Gown.” Those are the ones I’m pondering today. If you passed it by thinking it was a pop-star folly … maybe give it another chance. – Ann Bending, bookseller, The Book Keeper in Sarnia, Ontario

By: Q&Q Staff

December 13th, 2023

1:08 pm

Category: Books of the Year, Industry News

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