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Globe Books editors select the best-reviewed Canadian novels and story collections of the year

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A WORLD ELSEWHERE By Wayne Johnston (Knopf Canada) In late-19th-century St. John’s, Landish Druken lives in exile in a two-room attic. Both Druken and his creator use anagrams, puns and neologisms as keys to unlock secret lives, longings, betrayals and revenges. Revel in one of the funniest books that will move you to a deeper sense of the poignancy of human experience. – T.F. Rigelhof

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BETTER LIVING THROUGH PLASTIC EXPLOSIVES By Zsuzsi Gartner (Hamish Hamilton Canada) Gartner’s West Coast is wild and weird, uncanny and unnerving, volatile and violent, exploring the increasingly blurry line between science fiction and science fact. These stories are mutants, the glowing fruit of irradiated breeding experiments involving the DNA of a meticulous journalist, a snarky critic of hippie/hipster/yuppie mores, an inventive stylist and an old-school fabulist. – Laura Penny

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BRIDE OF NEW FRANCE By Suzanne Desrochers (Penguin Canada) A wholly original example of social history at its best. Desrochers, a trained historian, has boldly appropriated fiction to expand a vision gleaned from study of often overlooked evidence about the filles du roi, women exported by royal decree into the faltering, almost wholly male colony in the late 17th century to serve as breeding stock. – John Barber

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DON'T BE AFRAID By Steven Hayward (Knopf Canada) Don’t Be Afraid focuses on the death of 18-year-old Mike Morrison in a mysterious explosion, and his younger brother, Jim, and his family are shattered. But Hayward never lingers over the grief under which his characters are labouring. Rarely has loss and grieving been handled with such deft tenderness, sly humour and almost inexplicable beauty. – Robert J. Wiersema

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EVERY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE By Jamie Zeppa (Knopf Canada) Zeppa’s first novel explores three generations of a Canadian family in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., spreading out the full spectrum of the human experience in an unpretentious and thoroughly convincing way. She takes us from the Depression to the late 1970s as smoothly as if we were on a guided tour in a time machine. – William Kowalski

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EXIT By Nelly Arcan Translated by David Scott Hamilton (Anvil Press) Exit was finalized just days before Arcan’s suicide at 36. Set in Montreal “in the not too distant future,” the novel opens two years after a guillotine “malfunction” left narrator Antoinette paraplegic, rather than granting her the death by decapitation she then desired. Dark, beautiful, poignant and clever, Exit is a powerful read. – Lisa Foad

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HALF-BLOOD BLUES By Esi Edugyan (Thomas Allen) Set in Baltimore, Berlin and Paris, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winner Half-Blood Blues spans from just after the First World War to the 1990s, but centres on the months leading up to the Nazi occupation of Paris. It chronicles the increasingly deadly trials of an interracial jazz band in which the trumpeter, a German of African descent, is arrested. – Donna Bailey Nurse

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INTO THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY By Pauline Holdstock (HarperCollins) Holdstock takes on the relationship between English fur traders in Churchill, Man., and the native women on whom they relied. The novel follows the real-life, 18th-century exploits of Richard Norton, his son, Moses, and explorer Samuel Hearne, interspersing the goings-on at the Prince of Wales Fort with the dream sequences of Molly Norton, Hearne’s fictional love interest. – Suzanne Desrochers

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MISS NEW INDIA By Bharati Mukherjee (HarperCollins) This is a compelling novel of young people washing up in the call centres, coffee shops and bars of today's Bangalore. It is set in India, but American culture and values loom large. The novel makes sense of India’s digital age, and brings the worlds of tradition and change together in ways that illuminate both. – Linda Leith

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MONOCEROS By Suzette Mayr (Coach House) In this imaginative, quirky and devastating novel, the first chapter is narrated by the Dead Boy, harassed for being gay. By the end of the chapter, he has hanged himself; the rest of the novel is written by the students, parents and staff affected. Mayr nails the voices of her stable of wildly divergent narrators with aplomb. – Zoe Whittall

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OUR DAILY BREAD By Lauren B. Davis (Wordcraft of Oregon) Trouble’s brewing in the Church of Christ as religion and sin collide in a novel full of remarkable moments. Davis takes her character Dorothy on the road to the mountain of hell and offers to walk us back down. in simple, brave, powerful scenes that sit with the soul long after the book is closed. – Alan Cumyn

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QUIVER By Holly Luhning (HarperCollins) Like a perfectly executed murder with a feminine touch, Quiver has everything: style, substance, terror, a treacherous murderess – and lip gloss. Danica, a Canadian forensic psychologist, finds her enthrallment with violence fed by Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Báthory, who tortured and killed 650 women; her celebrity patient, murderer Martin Foster; and “frenemy” Maria Janos. – Ibi Kaslik

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THE ANTAGONIST By Lynn Coady (Anansi) Rank, the protagonist of Coady’s angry, funny, tender work, comes across himself in a novel by a former university pal. Outraged, he fires off a string of e-mails about what it was like to grow up as a huge boy continually mistaken for a tough guy, and who always gets the enforcer role on a hockey team. – Giles Blunt

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THE FREE WORLD By David Bezmozgis (HarperCollins) Bezmozgis tells the story of three generations of Russian Jews in Italy in 1978, emigrating from the Soviet Union to the “free world.” The novel unspools in a voice as whimsical and wry and trippingly light as a sidewalk musician’s, and Bezmozgis draws us in the way a consummate busker attracts his audience: with deceptive ease and unavoidable power. – Leah Hager Cohen

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THE GUARDIANS By Andrew Pyper (Doubleday Canada) Trevor, Randy, Ben and Carl were friends and schoolmates. One day, a teacher disappeared; seeking to solve the mystery, they entered Thurman House, where the unspeakable happened. Twenty-four years later, Trevor is awakened with the news that Ben has hanged himself. They return for Ben’s funeral, but the past begins to repeat itself when a young woman goes missing. – Christy Ann Conlin

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THE LITTLE SHADOWS By Marina Endicott (Doubleday Canada) Featuring three fatherless sisters and their widowed mother, The Little Shadows is set on vaudeville stages all over the U.S. and Canadian West around the First World War. The novel features Endicott’s trademark wry sensibility and pithy lyricism, and her skill at pulling the rug out from under the reader’s feet. – Katherine Ashenburg

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THE MEAGRE TARMAC By Clark Blaise (Biblioasis) A short-story stalwart, Blaise gives us whole personalities and the lived experience of his characters in a handful of pages. He has always explored the interconnections (and disconnections) of cultural and geographical spaces (and people). In The Meagre Tarmac, Blaise addresses himself to India and the stories of Indian immigrants in North America. – Steven Hayward

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THE PERFECT ORDER OF THINGS By David Gilmour (Thomas Allen) Gilmour’s delicious, subversive, self-mocking novel features a narrator who is a composite from all his other books. He revisits the places he has suffered, hoping to balance old scores and relearn early lessons. In the process, he is transformed from a man who likes to watch his own reflection into a man who reflects on his failings and losses. – Aritha van Herk

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THE SISTERS BROTHERS By Patrick deWitt (Anansi) The Sisters Brothers, winner of two major prizes, is poignant and powerful. This bold and compelling novel follows Eli and Charlie Sisters as they travel to San Francisco during the gold rush to kill a man. Their pursuit is a fantastic, fatalistic journey into the heart of their own natures, and the consequences of their past. – Robert J. Wiersema

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THE THIRTEEN By Susie Moloney (Random House Canada) Haven Woods is a suburban idyll: quiet streets, good schools, friendly neighbours and a bit of blood sacrifice and demon worship, the price of keeping life blessed for a coven of 13 women. Moloney has constructed a compellingly uncanny narrative, binding the tropes of small-town paranoia and cliquishness with the chokehold of family obligations and religious fervour. – Sandra Kasturi

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THE TIME WE ALL WENT MARCHING By Arley McNeney (Goose Lane) This small, beautiful book is filled with large themes. Edie and her four-year-old son, Belly, have boarded a train to B.C., leaving Belly’s father passed out in their freezing apartment. On the train, Edie tells Slim’s stories of Depression-era marches to Belly. McNeney layers these stories on Edie’s story with great care. A stunning achievement. – Michelle Berry

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UNDERGROUND By Antanas Sileika (Thomas Allen) This is a rare and compelling chronicle of Lithuanian partisans and their violent struggle against Soviet occupation after the Second World War. The central characters are Lukas, in love with Elena, and his brother, Vincentas. Sileika gives us a brilliant, highly accessible military history, one that remains largely repressed – underground. – Donna Bailey Nurse

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VITAL SIGNS By Tessa McWatt (Random House Canada) McWatt's bracing slap of a novel makes long-term couplehood more puzzling, murky and indefinable than ever. After 30 years of marriage, Michael and Anna must contend with Anna’s brain aneurysm and the prospect of a life-threatening operation. Over this book’s eerie traverse, Michael comes to question everything he has ever thought about “normal” life. – Cynthia Macdonald

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