With Canada turning 150 this year, it seems like the perfect time to start reading more books by female Canadian authors. Many of us know the big names of literary fiction such as Atwood and Munro, but there are thousands of Canadian authors hiding in plain sight. Magazines like Quill and Quire and The Antigonish Review, or websites like 49thShelf.com are great places to start looking for new Canadian authors to fill your bookshelves, but don't forget that librarians and booksellers are also great resources in your search for literature from The Great White North.
Here are ten of my favourite books that you may not have heard of or didn’t realize were written by Canadian women.
The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder (Herringford and Watts, #1) by Rachel McMillan: This history buff and lifelong bibliophile lives in Toronto and writes historical mysteries featuring two adventuresome young lady detectives. The beautiful covers, fun titles, and recognizable landmarks are what drew me to these books, but the great writing and engaging characters are what keep me coming back.
Synopsis: Most girls who find themselves at a murder scene would faint or run away, but Jem Watts and Merinda Herringford are made of sterner stuff. Instead, the girls launch their own investigation, utilizing their talent for disguise and powers of observation, while managing to avoid the dangerous attentions of the Morality Squad who would like nothing more than to put these bachelor girls in chains for their indecent behaviour.
So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum: Although on the surface this book looks like a simple grip-lit title, this Hamilton-born short story author kept me up late into the night with this tale of resilience and recovery.
Synopsis: When Catherine Reindeer vanishes without a trace, the second such disappearance in months, those who are left behind are forced to question the safety of their small town. Told through multiple narrators, Catherine's tale is intertwined with the story of a local poet whom she admires who came to an untimely end.
Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation by Kyo Maclear: I was lucky enough to meet this author at a publisher's event in Toronto last year. Since I also work in social services I found the idea of a book about being a caregiver for an ageing parent very interesting.
Synopsis: When children's book author, Kyo Maclear, finds herself the sole caregiver for her ageing father, she is overwhelmed with the day to day tasks of looking after him while trying to continue her writing career. In an effort to learn to live in the present and accept things as they come, she joins a local birder on his adventures through Toronto to admire and study the birds that have assimilated to city life.
The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley: This book appealed to me as a fan of Orange Is The New Black and Wentworth, as well as on a professional level as a social service worker and bookseller. I found it fascinating to read how some of these men interpreted classic literature, and how the simple act of reading and writing changed their lives.
Synopsis: Selecting a book to present to friends in your book club can be nerve-wracking enough, but imagine choosing a book that will be read by prison inmates who often have violent pasts. Walmsley was invited by a friend to help run a book club in Kingston Penitentiary, providing her with a unique look at how the power of the written word can change lives.
Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter: Growing Up with a Gay Dad by Alison Wearing: Reading Alison's story made me think of how difficult it is being different in any way when you live in a small town, especially as a young adult. I really appreciated the way she looked at the whole story from all perspectives, not just her own.
Synopsis: At the age of twelve, Alison's life was turned upside down when her father came out of the closet in the 1970s. Through extraordinary excerpts from her father's letters and journals from the years of his coming out, we read his private struggle to finally be true to himself and remain a devoted father.
The Outside Circle: A Graphic Novel by Patti Laboucane-Benson: This Métis author from Edmonton has worked for Native Counselling Services of Alberta for nearly two decades and based the book on the work and research she's done on historic trauma healing programs. I think this is a really important story to share, and that this is a beautiful powerful way to do it.
Synopsis: Two Aboriginal brothers surrounded by poverty, drug abuse, and gang violence, try to overcome centuries of historic trauma in very different ways to bring about positive change in their lives.
Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson - Nalo Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born writer and editor who lives in Canada. Her science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories often draw on Caribbean history and language, and its traditions of oral and written storytelling.
Synopsis: This collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories mix the modern with Afro-Caribbean folklore. The stories range in theme from a retelling of The Tempest as a new Caribbean myth, to filling a shopping mall with unfulfilled ghosts, to herding chickens that occasionally breathe fire.
The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron: Although this author is better-known for her suspense-filled psychological dramas, this book about Neanderthals is the one that made me a fan of her writing. This book isn't just historical fiction, but rather a moving tale of survival and the interconnectedness of the human experience.
Synopsis: Archaeologist Rosamund Gale has found the discovery of a lifetime, but is racing against the forces of nature as she works well into her pregnancy to excavate newly found Neanderthal artifacts. Her story is linked to that of Girl, the lone survivor of a Neanderthal clan that died off more than 40,000 years ago, who is faced with the daunting task of making her way to the annual meeting place while caring for a foundling child.
Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper: This Alberta native had to move to England to find her writing mojo, but she regularly comes back to Canada to ski. My favourite part about this book is how it starts off quite realistic and then magic and weirdness starts to sneak in.
Synopsis: At the age of eighty-two, having lived her whole life on the praries of Saskatchewan, Etta decides it's time to see the sea. She leaves behind Otto, her patient husband, and Russell, the man who has always wanted to be her husband. As Otto learns to look after himself thanks to the recipe cards she has left behind, Russell goes after the woman they both love.
Have you read something great by a female Canadian author? Add it to my Best Female Canadian Authors list on Goodreads!
Thanks, Amanda, for introducing us to these excellent books. Head over to The Literary Counsellor to see more reviews from Amanda.