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Canadian publishers make their recommendations for our Top 40

We asked a number of publishers from across the country to weigh in with their choices for our Top 40 essential Canadian novels of the past decade. You can also find more in the upcoming weeks at the Canada Reads: Publishers Corner, a Posterous blog set up for publishers to have their say during the span of the entire Canada Reads campaign.

Publisher Picks

Penguin Canada recommends: Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

Set in the Prairies of the 1930s, Under This Unbroken Sky is by turns bucolic and gripping, light-hearted and harrowing, and conjures comparisons to the work of David Adams Richards and W.O. Mitchell. It's the story of the Mykolayenkos, an unforgettable family of fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sisters, and brothers who are new to Canada and struggling not to be beaten by its harsh and unforgiving land. We meet them in their final year together as they desperately till the land and preserve food but also plot to rob one another of their meager holdings, both real and intangible. Soon, a brother is pitted against a sister, a mother against her newborn, and by the end of the year, three are dead. Yet this is not a story of defeat; badly battered, the remaining Mykolayenkos continue on, determined to make Canada home — and in the final, utterly redemptive pages of this novel one is reminded of the resiliency and grace of the human spirit. A spellbinding, cinematic read.

Shandi Mitchell spent her childhood on a military base in the Prairies and now makes her home on the East Coast as a filmmaker. Filmmaking has been the perfect training ground for Mitchell; each page of her novel is infused with the visceral, visual characterization and narrative that could make an equally remarkable film. Under This Unbroken Sky marks the emergence of one of Canada's best new storytellers.

Cory Beatty of HarperCollins Canada recommends: Room by Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue's Room has already become a Globe and Mail bestseller, been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Governor General's Award and the Writers' Trust Award. Watch the trailer and meet five-year-old Jack.

Sarah MacLachlan of House of Anansi recommends: February by Lisa Moore

Lisa is one of Canada's finest writers and a lovely person to boot. This novel is based on an historical event — the sinking of the offshore oil rig The Ocean Ranger and one woman's life story in the aftermath of her husband's death in that accident. A gorgeous read.

Joanna Karaplis of Annick Press recommends: Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton

Once you pick up Chanda's Secrets, good luck putting it down. This is a powerful read that will transport you to sub-Saharan Africa, where 16-year-old Chanda's life is falling apart. Chanda's mother is sick, and she's not going to recover from the disease that no one will speak about. Chanda does her best to juggle school and caring for her family, but the stigma and prejudice surrounding HIV/AIDS make life even more difficult. However, her fierce loyalty and courage shine through, transforming this into a universal story of hope, survival, and fearlessly facing the truth.

Chanda's Secrets has been translated into nine languages, and earned numerous positive reviews, nominations, and awards. It has also been adapted into a film called Life, Above All, which won the Prix Fran├žois Chalais (as well as a glowing review from Roger Ebert) at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. It premiered to great acclaim at TIFF and is the South African nomination to the Academy Awards.

We're proud that it's our book, but we're even prouder that it's a Canadian book. As Stephen Lewis has written, "This powerful story hits home... No-one can read Chanda's Secrets and remain untouched..."

Publisher Picks

Cormorant Books recommends:The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman

I've just read The Heart Specialist and I loved it. This is a book that I would recommend to everyone. What stood out the most to me is how believable and engaging the characters are. Agnes White, especially, is someone I could respect and identify with. Her character was so compelling that I often found myself caught up in her personal situations as if she were a real person. I also loved that she has strong convictions, ambition and determination.

Recently, the Globe ran a series about Canadian women in positions of power. Over a century ago, Maude Abbott had difficulties getting into medical school — McGill provided acceptance based on her ability to raise funds for a women-only parallel medical school. When she succeeded, McGill declined her admission, citing the riots at University of Toronto when women were admitted to its medical school. Yet Maude Abbott became a doctor, and an expert on abnormalities of the heart. (Her textbook is still used today.) Ground-breaker that she was, Dr. Abbott's footsteps have been difficult to follow; only in 2006 did the University of Toronto appoint its first woman dean of medicine. What should have been the final page in history continues today, as only a small percentage of the positions of authority and power in Canada are held by women.

The Heart Specialist was inspired by the life and career of Dr. Maude Abbott; it is the story of Agnes White pursuing her desire to be a doctor at the end of the 19th century and the dawn of the 20th.

When Agnes's father is accused of murder, he abandons his family; when her mother dies, her children are raised by their patrician grandmother. Agnes is not is not delicate and retiring; she is drawn to the "wrong things" including books and anatomy; she grows up to pursues her ambition, becomes a doctor, develops an unrequited passion, and searches for her missing father. Although recognized as a specialist in the human heart, the irony of Agnes' life is that she does not know her own.

The Heart Specialist is about a particular life, but it illuminates many; it's a novel to be read by anyone who's set their sights on a career only to be told that it is out of their reach. It's a universal story.

Jen Knoch of ECW recommends: Fear of Fighting by Stacey May Fowles

Julie Scriver of Goose Lane recommends: Elle by Douglas Glover

This is an amazing, gritty, bawdy, bloody piece of writing. Glover has a prowess for dialogue and can transport his readers to another time. He wrestles with the theme of displacement — individuals torn out of their culture, thrown into another, and never fitting anywhere again. Masterful!

Kimberly Walsh is an associate producer for Canada Reads and the Book Club.

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