Best of Atlantic Canada 2017

Two years ago I decided to challenge myself to read more books from Atlantic Canada. Last year I read 22 books from the region in total. This year I read 30.

30 is a higher number, but it turns out that it still only makes up about 32% of my reading… same as last year. Still, I’m happy with it.

Newfoundland – 6 (last year, 7)

Nova Scotia – 17 (last year, 12) – this is my home province, so this number makes sense

New Brunswick – 2 (last year, 3) – hmm… this seems low considering the number of writers from NB I can think of off the top of my head.

Prince Edward Island – 6 (last year, 0) – This is a better number, but it’s all thanks to L.M. Montgomery. I’m still in need of recommendations of current authors from PEI!

Standouts: 

(Read, but not necessarily published, in 2017.)

The Memento by Christy Ann Conlin – I read this almost a year ago now, but I can still remember the world of ghosts and secrets Conlin created for me in this book. A delicious read.

Once, a long time ago, you asked me what I was afraid of and I told you I wasn’t afraid of one single thing. That was not true. I was afraid of many things but talking about them only made it worse. I was never afraid of the dark, nor of animals, or creatures that howl in the night. But I was afraid around my mother because there was no fixing her. Stiff and old in my chair, I am only afraid now of what will be in your eyes when I see you, if you come out from wherever it is you are waiting. Afraid of the judgment, I suppose, same as what Ma feared she’d see in my eyes. It’s the details, isn’t it, that we remember? The eyes, the sound of the voice, the scent of the air, the way the light dapples through leaves onto the grass, or the perfect shadow of the winter branches on the snowy field, and how the child’s footprints on the sand are always washed away. This is what we remember.

Glass Voices by Carol Bruneau – An exploration of post-Halifax Explosion from the perspective of one family.

Soundlessly, a jet scores the spreading blueness overhead. Its plume links the clouds, cutting the path, perhaps, that fiery bits of metal once did. Parts of a ship, and souls sprayed like milk and eggs and perfume, invisible as a sliver in the heart, or a baby about to enter the world, leaving behind snug darkness.

The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes by Bridget Canning – Having known almost nothing about this book going into it, it was a nice surprise to discover how much I loved it. A sharp look at the world of internet and social media that we’ve been thrust into, whether we like it or not.

More than 40,000 views. More than the population of Trepassey. More people than she’s ever known, all watching the worst moment of her life. Sitting at their screens. Probably eating chips. Touching their keyboards with their sticky fingers, typing some semi-literate observation. Clicking the mouse to share it with the followers of their egos. Look at this now. Something else, isn’t it.

Advocate by Darren Greer – I was surprised by how charming this story was at times considering the subject matter; the AIDS panic of the 80s. The story is told by present day Jacob, a grown man now, having lived through, and been influenced by, his uncle’s isolating illness.

My uncle would be long dead before attitudes began to change. He lived in the most suspicious, superstitious and reactionary years of the disease. My grandmother was the personification of these attitudes. She led the trials, even though they were against her only son. The situation was ridiculous, as bad as the divisions between the Protestants and the Catholics when the town was founded hundreds of years ago.

We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night by Joel Thomas Hynes – This book was longlisted for the 2017 Giller Prize and was the winner of the 2017 Governor General’s Award for Fiction. With reason. You may not think it when you first start reading, but Johnny’s journey in this book is darkly comic, heart-breaking, and powerful. His character will be with me for a long time.

… Johnny looks at the crooked fork on the table and wonders at how softly and quickly we’re all here on this small ball of spinning dirt, and how some of us all has it fall from the sky the moment they comes into existence and how the rest of us are sitting here, hands gripped to the lip of this greasy edge, waiting for the bottom to rise up to meet us.

I Am A Truck by Michelle Winters – Shortlisted for the 2017 Giller Prize, I would have been happy to see this book win. It felt fresh and unique with its unconventional Acadian characters and rural Maritime setting.

Being separated by language from the world around them strengthened their bond of exclusivity. Gradually, they retreated from the world altogether, existing solely for each other in the confines of their home. “Il n’y a que nous.” (“It’s just us.”)

A Halifax Christmas Carol by Steven Laffoley – This book came to me at the perfect time – the first week of December 2017, the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion. Set in 1918, Laffoley’s story incorporates the spirit behind Dickens’s A Christmas Carol with the hopelessness of the aftermath of the explosion and WWI, and the oncoming panic of the Spanish Influenza.

It has been said, and I believe it is true, that the greatest things in life come from the smallest beginnings. Certainly, this might be said of the great thing that once came from a very small beginning indeed, just five weeks after the end of The Great War, and four days before Christmas, in the winter of 1918, when the city was worn and weary, and the world seemed shrouded in the worst of the darkness.

Standout Short Story Collections

A Bird on Every Tree by Carol Bruneau – Also the author of Glass Voices and These Good Hands, Bruneau’s stories have been highly praised across the country. Aside from the writing and execution of the stories in this collection, I love that the characters in them are all, in some way, connected to Nova Scotia.

It was cold but she could handle it. It was light she missed, light that would’ve made things better – fuck the festive season, light was all anyone with half a brain wanted – the only good thing about all the fuss, the commercialism, the consumerism, the churchy crap with the kid in a manger and the we-three-wise-ass-kings: it was all just people looking for light.

Peninsula Sinking by David Huebert – Based on this perfect book cover, I had high expectations for these stories… turns out they were even better than I was hoping they’d be.

When I get home I will dive head-first into the cold water of the North Atlanitc. I will feel the sand saturating the water as it kicks back from the surf. The sea will rub the sand against my body like softest pestle, grinding the mortar of me, and I will be happy and moving and tortured and alive. Because if this peninsula is going to sink, I am going to sink with it.

At the Tide’s Turn by Thomas Raddall – I can’t forget my old friend Thomas, also author of The Nymph and the Lamp and Hangman’s Beach, and whose books I’m hoping to make my way through. Most of the stories in this book go way back to the early days of Nova’Scotia’s colonization, which is one of the reasons I find them so fascinating. There’s a lot of history in here, and well as lovingly told stories.

Many Nova Scotia men went to that war – ten thousand, they say – and some fought for the one side, some for the other, according to their opinions. There’s no knowing now which had the right of it, for a brave man makes a brave cause, and blood’s the one colour, North or South. But whichever jacket he wore, the Bluenose was an honest man and a fighting man and a credit to Nova Scotia.

Standout books set in Atlantic Canada whose authors are from elsewhere in Canada

Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane – A fictional account of the young Maud Montgomery; a time when she was trying to figure out who she was, where she fit into the world, and how she was to follow her most cherished ambition. A must-read for any LMM fan.

She would write about girls who dreamed of words, art, music, and love – girls who were embraced by their communities and families, even if they were considered queer. She would create stories that came from the dark corners of her soul, giving voice to her rainbow valleys, shining waters, and disappointed houses. She would find a home for herself within them, living in the in-between.

Dazzle Patterns by Alison Watt – Another book that came to me at the right time, helping me to add to my Halifax Explosion project. This book has everything I love, and is beautifully told.

A woman pushing a pram slowed to inspect the window, her shoes scuffed and lumpy. The babe in the pram, almost lost in swaddling, was deep in newborn sleep, untouched by what happened here a mere year ago. On just such a morning, women, combing their hair and making tea, urged children to eat their porridge, lace up their boots, their husbands setting off for work with cold meat and thick bread slices in tin lunch cans, each oblivious to the precious ordinary moments. Just before they shattered.

Last, but not least

Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, Emily’s Quest, The Blue Castle, The Blythes are Quoted

These are the books by L.M. Montgomery that I read this year, and they are all stand-outs. Even as re-reads. Even with their “flaws”. Treat yourself to one every once in a while.

But from childhood my one wish and ambition was to write. I never had any other or wished to have.  – L.M. Montgomery

Have you read any of these? Which ones tempt you? Do you have any to recommend?

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39 thoughts on “Best of Atlantic Canada 2017

  1. James says:

    A nice roundup of your year in books, Naomi! May I suggest Wayne Curtis as an NB writer to consider reading? There’s Ray Fraser, too…. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks for your suggestions! I have noted Wayne Curtis as a possibility after seeing reviews of his books on your site! Ray Fraser is new to me… any preferences from his work?

  2. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    Happy New Year, Naomi. I hope 2018 will be another great (reading) year for you. Unsurprisingly, I have no suggestions for you, but I thank you for the reminder of some of the books you added to my TBR. 🙂

  3. Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis says:

    As you probably know, I’m currently reading I am a Truck. I have both Bruneau books as well as Peninsula Sinking on hold at the library, and I have Darren Greer’s book and Dazzle Patterns on my TBR.

    You’ve inspired me to read many, many Atlantic Canadian books I might never have heard about. Thank you!!

    P.S. Then there’s LMM. Anne is so delightful. But in 2013 I read Kilmeny of the Orchard. Maybe you just have to be in the mood for her. https://www.exurbanis.com/archives/7377#kilmeny

    • Naomi says:

      It sounds like you’re well on your way to reading all the good books! 🙂

      Oh dear, you really didn’t like Kilmeny. I haven’t read that book in a long time (I was probably still in my teens). I wonder what I’d think of it now. I imagine I’ll like it better than you did, though, based on my past ability to suspend my disbelief while reading her books. It does grate on my nerves a bit when a writer goes on about someone’s great beauty. Hmm… now I’m curious…

  4. Rick @ AnotherBook.blog says:

    I’ll say this: Atlantic Canada covers have improved tremendously in the last few years. Local publishers have gotten so much better. It’s great to see.

    Have you not read Malagash yet? That would be my next suggestion for you. It’s really good. Unique premise, quick read, it’ll make you think.

    Happy new year, Naomi! Excited to see what you tackle in 2018 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I agree! I hadn’t given it much thought before, but it used to be that you could easily pick out local books based on the terrible covers… and now they blend in with all the rest. Hooray!

      I was going to read Malagash over the holidays, but I got very little reading done, and now I’m trying to keep up with the library books I took out (the story of my reading life). However, it’s at the top of my pile!

      Happy New Year to you too, Rick! 🙂

  5. FictionFan says:

    The one that appeals most is The Memento, but unbelievably it’s still not available over here. I’ll keep an eye out for it though. You need to go and demonstrate outside all these publishers’ offices… 😉

  6. Rebecca Foster says:

    Happy new year! So many of your top reads sound appealing — I really wish these authors were more widely available outside of Canada. Several of these are already on my TBR thanks to your reviews last year.

    • Naomi says:

      It’s good to hear that you’re tempted by them… bad to hear you can’t get them. Fiction Fan siggested I protest outside their offices. 😉 Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about how the publishing industry works in terms of distribution.

  7. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    I love the focus you have on your region of the world. You’ve certainly added to my TBR and to my consciousness of Canadian Lit in general! I hope to get to The Memento this year. I bought it when I was in Toronto.

  8. The Cue Card says:

    I think it’s great you’re reading a lot of books from your home province. Each year I find more Canadian authors that I really like. This year the novel Brother blew me away. David Chariandy is my new Canadian favorite this year. I also loved British-Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie’s novel Home Fire. Let’s see what 2018 brings!

    • Naomi says:

      I find the same thing – the more CanLit I read, the more I find that I haven’t read yet and want to! Maybe 2018 will bring us more hours in a day! 🙂

  9. Kristilyn says:

    I have a few of these on my reading list and can’t wait to get to them! I love that 32% of what you read was solely from Eastern Canada – I just strive to have at least a quarter or more of my reads from Canada in general. Good luck with this year – maybe you’ll get up to 33% or more!

  10. annelogan17 says:

    Wow ok if Dazzle Patterns made your ‘best of’ list I definitely have to read it! Ugh I just don’t have the time these days, there are so many dang books on my shelf, but I do owe Freehand a review, it’s been awhile…

  11. Krysta says:

    This is a cool post! I don’t often see books by Canadian authors! The only one I know really is Montgomery (though I’ve read Maud, too). It’s good to see some of her non-Anne books being promoted! I’ve read some Ondaatje, too, but my favorite genre is fantasy, so….only two by him.

  12. Grab the Lapels says:

    I feel like in the U.S. we get a lot of Canadian comedians, but don’t talk much about Canadian writers, so I’m glad to learn more about your country as you read more Canadian Atlantic lit! The cover with the bird in the shovel made me instantly sad. The burnt in their beds title reminds me of Rachel Lynde talking about orphans in the beginning of Anne! Did you like the Blythes book? Didn’t that one just come out? Shoot me a link if you reviewed it!

  13. buriedinprint says:

    Lovely presentation. And you make them sound so terrific. The only ones I’ve read are Advocate and the Joel Thomas Hynes, and you already know how much I enjoyed them. I do want to include more Atlantic voices in my reading, but it’s just hard to fit in all the voices! You know how it is. I’m definitely going to read a Raddall this year though – no more (viable) excuses! 🙂

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