Mid-Year Must-Reads – Fiction Edition
Typically the most-buzzy books get their dues in the fall – the primo book buying season of the year (hello holidays). But there are still plenty of ace books published on a weekly basis, and they’ll still be making waves come Christmas. If you’re looking to get a jump start on gifting your favourite bookworm – or even keeping an eye out for sales before the fall season – I’ve rounded up a list of the most talked-about, revered books out there right now. Great for readers, book club members, or even ailing friends – nothing helps pass the time like getting wrapped up in a great read. Today? We look at the most talked-about fiction titles.
The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen
This book has been dubbed ‘This Year’s Room‘ after Emma Donoghue’s massive 2011 best seller, a riveting kidnapping tale told through the eyes of a child. The Land of Decoration also capitalizes on a child storyteller, in the form of ten-year-old Judith, a British girl who’s been raised in ‘the faith’ – with nightly scripture readings, daily proselytizing, weekly council meetings, and no television or books to keep her entertained, she amuses herself by building ‘The Land of Decoration’, a replica world made from bits and bobs and scraps she finds in the real world. When her school tormenter dials up his torture, Judith is driven to try and make a miracle happen, and quickly discovers she may have a closer relationship with God than she’d previously imagined – to the distress of the adults around her. Whether you’re spiritual or not, this book is intensely riveting and incredibly hard to put down. Judith’s innocence sets the perfect stage for the mounting tensions in the book between her and her father, her bully, and the town in general, making every chapter incredibly anxiety-ridden, but also beautifully written.
Buy It For: Your friend or family member that absolutely devoured Room last year – they really do have a similar nail-biting tension to them, despite quite different subject matter.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Even if they say don’t judge a book by its cover, I promise you, the story inside these pages is as captivating as that summery villa cover image. In an ambitious tale that spans 50 years and multiple continents, this story of love lost, chance encounters, and Hollywood glamour has been highly touted as one of the must-reads of the year. In part, the triumph of the novel is its elaborate cast of characters – and I’m talking dozens here – that Walter somehow manages to not only make it easy to grasp, but finds a meaningful place for each and every one of them.
Buy It For: Your friend or family member that either has a lust for travel or following famous folks – they’ll eat up this two-sided tale.
Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace
The proverbial ‘one’ could be anywhere, at least, that’s the premise of this dry humoured book about a man named Jason Priestley (not that Jason), who has a chance meeting with a woman on the titular street. Her departure leaves him flummoxed, particularly when he realizes the only hope he has of tracking her down – if indeed she is the one as he so dares to imagine – is through the battered disposable camera she leaves behind. Of course, things take a turn for the interesting when Jason discovers himself in one of the developed photos, and he is soon consumed with a bit of detective work (or you know, stalking) to find out what this mystery lady is all about. The book is one of the quieter titles on this list, at least here in Canada, but for a debut author, it’s definitely a strong start for this charming writer.
Buy It For: Your friend that’s still obsessing over the London games – this book is all about exploring the city. It’s also a great choice for fans of other big-time British authors like Helen Fielding or Nick Hornsby.
The Age of Miraclesby Karen Thompson Walker
Imagine waking up one morning and finding out the earth’s orbit has slowed. Maybe not by much, at first, but the impact is soon felt both on the planet, and its denizens in this arresting debut novel by Karen Thompson Walker. Our hero is eleven-year-old Julia, who is contending with the typical adventures of the tween years against the backdrop of what can only be called a quiet global crisis. What’s particularly mesmerizing with this one is the fact that Thompson Walker has meshed together two classic genres – the disaster novel and the coming-of-age story – into one wholly unique, sparsely told story that will do its very best to move you…even as the planet slows down.
Buy It For: Your niece that’s headed off to college this fall. She’ll get a kick out of the literary style, and even if she’s older than the protagonist, she’ll still learn plenty about growing up and moving onwards.
Above All Things by Tanis Rideout
If you love historical fiction, you are in for a serious treat with Tanis Rideout’s beautiful debut novel. Part romance, part adventure tale, and intensely researched – this is a tale of contrasts. It follows the ill-fated voyage of George Malloy, who in 1924, attempted to be the first man to summit Everest, and the immense dangers he faced. On the flip side, we get a rare glimpse into a woman’s life in this male-dominated era, through his wife Ruth, who is simply waiting at home (in a quite cushy setting) for news of her husband’s fate – both stories are actually interwoven with flashes of back story and history, both of their relationship, and of other mountaineering expeditions. To me, the mark of good historical fiction is a book where, despite knowing the outcome, you find it nearly impossible to put down – and Rideout has successfully accomplished that. The Everest chapters will leave you in nail-biting suspense, putting you the reader in the same frame of mind of his anxiously awaiting wife. Beautiful & sweeping, this is a must-read for anyone that loves daring adventures or a healthy slice of history in their novels.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
It’s rare I’ll feature a title more than once on the blog, but Gillian Flynn’s third novel is so undeniably buzzy, and my previous mention so fleeting, I couldn’t not include it on this list. For the unfamiliar, Flynn’s novels have been earning her a substantial following over the last few years – that is, if you can deal with the incredibly dark, sometimes violent tone of her work. If you like your books a little down & disturbed, then you’ll dig this one, considered by many to be her finest work yet. Much like other novels on this list, the book is told from two alternating perspectives – Nick & Amy have been married for five years, but on the eve of their anniversary, she goes missing. Suddenly Nick’s golden-boy reputation is tarnished to reveal an egotistical, uncaring, but debatably lethal man…and as for Amy? Well we get glimpses of her diary, that reveal more and more about the dark roots of their relationship. Like all of Flynn’s novels, proceed with caution if you can’t handle a little bone-chilling prose – but also? Be prepared to be totally gone from the world once you get hooked.
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
Another novel set in the 1920s, only this time it’s all about the glitter and glitz of the jazz age, as we follow a young Louise Brooks (the world-famous silent film star) before she was famous over the course of five weeks in New York City, where she’s chaperoned by a traditional woman named Cora Carlisle who has an ulterior motive for keeping an eye on the tempestuous, arrogant Brooks. The novel is about much more than the plot – which swings between Brooks’ launch to fame and Cora’s checkered past. It’s really a story about the era, and women in it, and the changing paradigms the two women both adhere to and challenge in unexpected and different ways. Societal norms of the time period may come as a shock to today’s readers (unless you watch HBO’s fabulous series Boardwalk Empire), which makes this that much more of a delight. You really don’t have to know much about Brooks to appreciate this surprisingly fun novel since the novel is primarily about Cora, and the internal struggles she has as she just tries to figure out where she belongs in this rapidly-changing world.
Canada by Richard Ford
With a title like this, you know a few Canadians’ ears perked up when Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford released his twenty-years-in-the-making novel. The story is told from the perspective of a teenage boy named Dell who’s parents committed a crime spree – starting with a bank robbery and ending with murder. Orphaned and uncertain about his future, especially when his twin sister Berner flees, Dell is squirreled across the Canadian border by a family friend, in hopes he’ll find peace and a new life in Saskatchewan. What follows there is a stirring piece of literary fiction – the classic coming-of-age novel against a dark yet familiar backdrop. What you might find particularly engrossing here is Ford’s examination of Canada – the way he touches on our legendary cultural mosaic and vast lands without making it feel tired or cliched. It’s neat to read a story about our nation from the perspective of an American teenager, over fifty years ago, but written in the present by an American. A great pick for anyone from the prairies in particular, or those that simply enjoy a good, deep read.
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
If you thought those scenes in Titanic where Molly Brown is begging people to go back and save some survivors was devastating, wait till you pick up this book. The gist of the tale? A luxury ocean liner goes down in 1914, but for a lucky few, they get onto lifeboats. The story is told by one of the survivors, 22-year-old Grace – newly widowed, and currently sitting in a jail cell. Why you ask? It’s revealed bit-by-bit as she recounts her 21 days on a lifeboat, where her fellow passengers quickly realized they were over capacity and needed to lose a few souls to make it through. Alliances are formed, plots are hatched, and survival is a very thin line for everyone involved. Of course, questions remain…what is the crime that has landed Grace in prison? How has her life changed since the moment she stepped onto that ocean liner? What sacrifices will each passenger make to make it to shore? If you liked Yann Martel’s legendary Life of Pi, also set on a boat, you’ll find this metaphor for society as a whole engrossing. On the flip side, if you’re simply looking for a heart-thrumming tale of survival, you’ll also dig this.
Dare Me by Megan Abbott
Like several other titles on this list, teenagers make for compelling protagonists, even if the novels aren’t necessarily geared toward that age group. This story follows a second-in-command, Addy, to her ultra-competitive cheer squad’s Queen Bee, Beth. The two of them are the very best of frenemies, and refreshingly, aren’t exactly seen in the best light within the school – their reign of terror is limited to their circle of follower cheerbots, and they’re somewhat considered outsiders by the rest of the student body. Things take a turn, however, when a new cheerleading coach that’s unimpressed by Beth’s antics creates a new order – one that infuriates Beth and blesses Addy with a more exalted position. When a suicide happens, the book becomes something of a noir murder mystery – wrapped up in the candy-coated yet intensely dark world of cheerleading and the emotions and long, long memories of teenage girls.
Hope you enjoyed checking out these top 10 picks! Feeling like turning some pages? I’ve got a great book prize package for one lucky winner. You’ll walk away with copies of Charlotte Street, The Lifeboat, Gone Girl, Above All Things, Age of Miracles, and Dare Me. Here’s how to enter:
1) Leave a comment by September 12th with the book(s) from this list you’re most keen to read.
2) Entries are limited to one per person / per email address / per household (or more if you score bonus entries). A random draw will be conducted on or around September 13th to select the winner, who will have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen in their place.
3) Entries are limited to Canadians that have reached the age of majority in their province. Quebec is not eligible to participate in this promotion.
4) Bonus Entry: You all seemed to be having fun with Goodreads via the last MYMR contest, so let’s give it another whirl. Any books you add from this list to your ‘To-Read’ list will earn you a bonus entry, for up to 10 total. Please just link back to your ‘To-Read’ list in the comments, and make sure the books are visible so I don’t have to go searching for them. Good luck!