Books are a great gift for everyone! Here are 24 Canadian works of fiction from several different past eras to give the historical fiction lover this holiday season.
The Sleeping Car Porter tells the story of Baxter, a Black man in 1929 who works as a sleeping car porter on a train that travels across the country. He smiles and tries to be invisible to the passengers, but what he really wants is to save up and go to dentistry school. On one particular trip out west, the train is stalled and Baxter finds a naughty postcard of two gay men. The postcard reawakens his memories and longings and puts his job in jeopardy.
The Sleeping Car Porter won the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
LISTEN | Suzette Mayr reacts to winning the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize:
11:02Suzette Mayr on winning the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize
In All the Quiet Places, it’s 1956 and young Eddie Toma lives on the far edge of the Okanagan Indian Reserve with his mother and little brother. In the summer, he tags along with his mother, her friends and his nephew to farm in Washington state. After tragedy strikes, Eddie comes home grief-stricken, confused and lonely. As he grows up, his life is governed by the decisions of the adults around him. And every time things start to look up, circumstances beyond his control crash down around him — and the effects of guilt, grief and despair keep piling up, threatening everything Eddie has ever known or loved.
Brian Thomas Isaac was born on the Okanagan Indian Reserve in B.C. He’s worked in oil fields, as a bricklayer and had a short career riding bulls in local rodeos. As a lover of sports, he has coached minor hockey. All the Quiet Places is his first book and was on the Canada Reads 2022 longlist.
LISTEN | Brian Thomas Isaac on beoming a novelist at 71:
27:31This 71-year-old writer’s coming-of-age novel is a debut like no other
When Marie, the spoiled daughter of a sugar baron living in 19th-century Montreal, meets the brilliant Sadie, the two are immediately inseparable. Marie has bubbly charm and sees the pleasure of the world, whereas Sadie’s obsession with darkness is all-consuming. Class and circumstance lead them down different paths, while each woman plays an unexpected role in the events that upend their city. When We Lost Our Heads is a story that explores gender, power, sex, desire, class and status.
Heather O’Neill is a writer and author from Montreal. O’Neill’s debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, was a finalist for a Governor General’s Literary Award and won Canada Reads 2007. The Montreal-based writer was the first back-to-back finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize: her novel The Girl Who Was Saturday Night was a finalist in 2014 and her short story collection Daydreams of Angels was a finalist in 2015. She is also the author of the novel The Lonely Hearts Hotel and the nonfiction book Wisdom in Nonsense.
LISTEN | Heather O’Neill on When We Lost Our Heads:
54:00When we lost our heads with Heather O’Neill
Bloomsbury Girls tells the story of Vivien Lowry, Grace Perkins and Evie Stone — three women with a complex web of relationships, goals and dreams — as they interact with famous literary figures. The novel is set in the 1950s world of publishing and the women work in an old-fashioned bookstore, run by men, called Bloomsbury Books. As they juggle their lives, the women work toward a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.
Natalie Jenner is the bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society, which was the 2020 Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for historical fiction. Jenner is a former lawyer and independent bookshop owner. She was born in England and now lives in Oakville, Ont.
Wan tells the story of Jacqueline, a privileged artist in 1970s South Africa. After an anti-apartheid activist comes to hide in her garden house, Jacqueline’s carefully constructed life begins to unravel.
Dawn Promislow is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa. She is the author of the collection Jewels and Other Stories, which was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in 2011. Her writing has appeared in places like the Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Berfrois, Munyori Literary Journal, StoryTime and Hazlitt. Promislow lives in Toronto.
Mansions of the Moon traces the life of Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as the Buddha, and his marriage to the intelligent and spirited Yasodhara. From their early life together to their crumbling partnership as Siddhartha’s spiritual calling takes over, Mansions of the Moon paints a rich portrait of a marriage and illuminates a woman who has remained in the shadows of history.
Shyam Selvadurai is an award-winning Sri Lankan Canadian novelist. His novel Funny Boy won the 1995 Books in Canada First Novel Award, now known as the Amazon Canada First Novel Award. It was also adapted into a film by Indian Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, which is available on CBC Gem. His other books include The Hungry Ghosts and Swimming in the Monsoon Sea.
LISTEN | Shyam Selvadurai takes the Proust Questionnaire:
The Next Chapter8:50Shyam Selvadurai takes The Next Chapter questionnaire
We, Jane is a novel inspired by the real-life Jane Collective, an underground healthcare initiative that started in 1960’s Chicago. We, Jane is about a young woman named Marthe, who ends up befriending an older woman while living in Montreal. She learns about how the woman used to help young women in rural Newfoundland get abortions, and the two return to the island to continue this cause. But over time, things become more difficult — and more complicated — than Marthe ever imagined.
Aimee Wall is a writer and translator from Newfoundland who now lives in Montreal. Her translations include Vickie Gendreau’s novels Testament and Drama Queens. We, Jane, her first novel, was on the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, the shortlist for the 2022 ReLit Awards and was a 2022 finalist for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award.
LISTEN | Aimee Wall on exploring abortion access through fiction:
26:10How novelist Aimee Wall uses fiction to talk truths of rural abortion access
Vile Spirits is a follow-up to mystery novel The White Angel, which was inspired by the 1924 murder of Scottish nanny Janet Smith. Vancouver is once again plagued by two suspicious deaths. Alcohol is legal again after prohibition failed, but anti-booze sentiments remain strong. To attempt appeasement, Attorney General Gordon Cunning establishes the Liquor Control Board to oversee supply. But when both Cunning and the wife of a bureaucrat are found dead, people wonder if it’s pure coincidence that they were both drinking the same brand of “tonic.”
John MacLachlan is a writer, playwright, composer and theatre director who lives in Vancouver. He has created many productions, most notably Billy Bishop Goes to War. He’s the author of several fiction and nonfiction books, including The White Angel. MacLachlan is an officer of the Order of Canada.
The Orphan Girl is a novel about friendship and courage that follows Kate, an energetic and spirited young woman in England during the Second World War. Already dealing with the loss of her father, she is caught in an air raid and is injured when her house is bombed. While recuperating, a doctor named Claire invites Kate to live with her. But when Claire’s husband returns home from the war, the women’s lives are forever changed.
Kurt Palka is a bestselling novelist based in Toronto. Three of his books are works of historical fiction — Clara, a Hammett Prize finalist set in 1930s Vienna, The Piano Maker, a national bestselling book set in 1930s Canada, and The Hour of the Fox, which follows a lawyer named Margaret Bradley through the death of her son in the 1970s. Palka was raised in Austria and spent most of his career as a journalist.
The School of Mirrors is set against the backdrop of 18th century France, on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, where King Louis XV houses his mistresses in a mansion. A young woman named Veronique comes to live in the mansion under the guise of employment and quickly falls for the King, without knowing his true identity. When she realizes who he really is, Veronique must contend with the stakes of their affair and what she will have to give up in order to survive.
Eva Stachniak is a Polish Canadian historical novelist. Her books include Necessary Lies, which won the 2001 Canada First Novel Award, now known as the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, Empress of the Night, The Chosen Maiden and The Winter Palace.
The Loyal Daughter follows a young woman from a village in communist China to an isolated northern Ontario town and then to Toronto. It’s told from the perspective of mother, daughter and granddaughter and spanning from the 1940s to modern day. When the woman finds herself stuck in a small apartment with her four kids and mother, the promise of a new beginning fades and her resilience is tested.
Nancy Lam is a Toronto author and immigration lawyer. The Loyal Daughter is her debut novel.
In 2017, Angela Creighton discovers a mysterious letter containing a confession in an old stack of mail. Determined to find the recipient, Angela’s search takes her back to the 1970s when a group of women operated an underground abortion network in Toronto known by the code name: Jane. Weaving together the lives of three women, Looking for Jane is a story about the devastating consequences that come from a lack of choice and the enduring power of a mother’s love.
Heather Marshall is a writer from Toronto, Ontario. Before turning her attention to storytelling, Marshall worked in politics and communications. Looking for Jane is her first novel.
LISTEN | Heather Marshall on the true story behind her novel Looking for Jane:
9:26Tuesday Afternoon book club with Heather Marshall
Bluebird takes place during the First World War and tells the story of a young nurse named Adele who forms a strong bond with Jeremiah, a wounded soldier under her care. Jeremiah returns to the front — but when the war is over, the two cross paths in their hometown of Windsor, Ont., and see it as a second chance. Prohibition brings new danger to the city and it threatens to tear them apart.
Graham is a bestselling writer from Nova Scotia who has written several novels that highlight Canadian history. Her other books include At the Mountain’s Edge, Letters Across the Sea, Come From Away and The Forgotten Home Child.
LISTEN | Genevieve Graham on how the history of Windsor inspired her latest novel:
Afternoon Drive6:37Bestselling Author Has Windsor as a Setting in New Book
First published in 2002, The Polished Hoe won the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Trillium Book Award. The new 20th anniversary edition features a foreword by writer and professor Rinaldo Walcott, as well as a new cover commissioned from Toronto visual artist Shawn Skeir. Set on the post-colonial West Indian island of Bimshire in 1952, the novel follows the murder confession of Mary Mathilda, who claims to have killed the plantation owner for whom she has worked for more than 30 years — and whose mistress she has been for most of that time, including becoming the mother of his only son.
Austin Clarke, who died in 2016, was one of Canada’s foremost authors. His work included 11 novels, several short story collections, two collections of poetry and multiple memoirs including ‘Membering, published a year before his death.
WATCH | Austin Clarke from the CBC archives:
Set in Montreal during the 1967 Expo, Nosy Parker is about nosy Audrey Parker and her dad. They have just moved to Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and Audrey pays attention to every detail, but only one mystery really matters to her. Audrey wants to know who her mother was, how she died and why her father won’t talk about it.
Nosy Parker follows Audrey from childhood to adolescence, where she eventually discovers the truth about her mother.
Lesley Crewe is the author of several novels including Relative Happiness, The Spoon Stealer and Mary, Mary. She previously worked as a freelance writer and columnist. Originally from Montreal, Crewe now lives in Cape Breton.
LISTEN | Lesley Crewe on how Montreal inspires her:
All in a Weekend12:03Author Lesley Crewe writes about the Montreal of her youth in “Nosy Parker”
The Taste of Hunger is set in Saskatchewan in the late 1920s. Olena, who is 15 years old, is forced into a marriage with a man twice her age. Stuck in a life she despises, Olena rebels against her fate and sets off a chain of events whose effects reverberate through generations. The Taste of Hunger is a family saga about Ukrainian immigrants and the power of redemption and forgiveness.
Barbara Joan Scott is a writer and editor from Calgary. Her first collection of short stories, The Quick, won the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize and the Howard O’Hagan Award for Best Collection of Short Fiction. The Taste of Hunger is her debut novel.
Junie, a creative and observant child, moves to Hogan’s Alley in the 1930s with her mother. In the novel Junie, Hogan’s Alley is a thriving Black immigrant community in Vancouver’s east end and Junie quickly makes meaningful relationships. As she moves into adulthood, Junie explores her artistic talents and sexuality, but her mother sinks further into alcoholism and the thriving neighbourhood once filled with potential begins to change.
Chelene Knight is a writer and poet from Vancouver. She is the author of Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, which won the 2018 Vancouver Book Award. Her work has appeared in literary magazines in Canada and the U.S. and she has been a judge for literary awards, including the B.C. Book Prizes.
The Next Chapter3:34Chelene Knight on Junie
Fayne is about Charlotte Bell, a young woman growing up in the 19th century. She lives at Fayne House, a vast and lonely estate straddling the border between England and Scotland. When a mysterious artifact is found, Charlotte’s passion for knowledge and adventure will take her to the bottom of family secrets — and to the heart of her own identity.
Ann-Marie MacDonald is a writer now lives between Toronto and Montreal. Her novels include Fall on Your Knees, The Way the Crow Flies, and Adult Onset. Fall on Your Knees was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and was a finalist for Canada Reads in 2010, when it was defended by Perdita Felicien. In addition to writing, she was the host of CBC’s Doc Zone for eight years
LISTEN | Ann-Marie MacDonald reflects on her writing career:
32:15Ann-Marie MacDonald on her new novel Fayne and the forthcoming stage adaptation of Fall on Your Knees
The Lost Century is a historical novel that explores the legacy of colonialism and resistance involving the British, China and Hong Kong. On the eve of the return of the British crown colony of Hong Kong to China in 1997, a young woman explores a possible murder in her family’s past. The quest for the truth unearths family secrets, lies, violence and love.
Larissa Lai is a writer from Calgary. She is also the author of the novels The Tiger Flu, Salt Fish Girl and When Fox is a Thousand and the poetry books Sybil Unrest, co-written with Rita Wong, and Automaton Biographies. The Tiger Flu won a Lambda Literary Award. She is a Canada Research Chair in creative writing at the University of Calgary.
Set during the golden age of the Roman Empire, We Should Not Be Afraid of the Sky follows five sisters who are abducted by soldiers from their small Portuguese village. The sisters are suddenly forced to face long-buried secrets as they find themselves at the centre of a deadly standoff. They must part ways to fight their own battles in order to survive.
LISTEN | Emma Hooper on We Should Not Be Afraid Of The Sky:
17:39International best-selling author Emma Hooper
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, the latest novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, is set in 19th-century Mexico and has elements of the supernatural as it reimagines the classic work The Island of Doctor Moreau. Carlota Moreau is a young woman who lives in an estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. Carlota’s father is the eccentric Doctor Moreau, a man whose scientific experiments have created the hybrids — part human, part animal monstrosities. Living in the jungle, Carlota is caught up in this world filled with secrets and horror.
Born and raised in Mexico, Moreno-Garcia is the B.C. author of novels Signal to Noise, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Untamed Shore, The Beautiful Ones and Velvet Was the Night.
LISTEN | Silvia Moreno-Garcia on The Daughter of Doctor Moreau:
The Next Chapter19:30Silvia Moreno-Garcia on The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
Haven is a novel set in 7th-century Ireland in a time of plague and terror. A scholar priest named Artt has a dream in which God tells him to leave the sinful world behind. With two monks — young Trian and old Cormac — he rows down the River Shannon in search of an isolated spot in which to found a monastery. Drifting out into the Atlantic, the three men find the steep, bare island known today as Skellig Michael. In such a place, what will survival mean?
Emma Donoghue is an Irish Canadian writer. Her books include the novels Landing, Room, Frog Music, The Wonder, The Pull of the Stars and the children’s book The Lotterys Plus One. Room was an international bestseller and was adapted into a critically acclaimed film starring Brie Larson.
LISTEN | Emma Donoghue on Haven:
31:03Emma Donoghue on setting her new novel Haven on a desolate island in the North Atlantic
My Indian Summer is a novel about survival, reconciliation and identity set during the summer of ’79. For Hunter Frank, the summer begins with his mother returning home only to collect the last two months’ welfare cheques, leaving her three mixed-race children to fend for themselves. The siblings get involved in an adventure involving a trio of elders and the stash of cash in the purple Crown Royal bag hidden in his mattress.
Joseph Kakwinokanasum is a member of James Smith Cree Nation. Kakwinokanasum’s work has been published in the 2022 anthology Resonance: Essays on the Craft and Life of Writing by Anvil Press, the Humber Literary Journal, and Emerge, The Writer’s Studio anthology. He was on the shortlist for the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize and his manuscript Woodland Creetures was awarded the 2014 Canada Council for the Arts Creation Grant for Aboriginal Peoples, Writers and Storytellers.
LISTEN | How Joseph Kakwinokanasum’s life is reflected in his fiction:
11:32Real-life experiences the basis of first novel “My Indian Summer”
It’s 1986 and Muna Heddad has left behind a civil war in Lebanon and is living in Montreal. The only work she can find is as a hotline operator at a weight-loss centre where she fields calls from people responding to ads in magazines or on TV. These strangers have so much to say about their challenges, from marriages gone bad to personal inadequacies. Although her life in Canada is filled with invisible barriers, Muna is privy to her clients’ deepest secrets.
Dimitri Nasrallah is a writer from Lebanon. He is the author of novels The Bleeds, Niko, which won the 2011 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, and Blackbodying, winner of Quebec’s McAuslan First Book Prize. Nasrallah lives in Montreal and is the fiction editor at Esplanade Books.
LISTEN | Dimitri Narsallah reflects on Hotline being longlisted for the Giller Prize:
Let’s Go12:57Montrealer longlisted in Giller Prize