CBCBooks on  Twitter CBCBooks on Facebook

Exploring the Canada Reads Top 40: Through eastern eyes

Looking to vote on the Canada Reads Top 40? You can do that if you click here!

Our Top 40 is all over the map (literally!), with authors representing nearly every region from coast to coast to coast. However, the East Coast vote showed up in spades, with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland sending eight novels to the Top 40. We look at these books below! (Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick didn't make the cut, although Top 40 author Corey Redekop spent some time in Fredericton. But we'll check out his book out in another post. Other novels also fall into the "Atlantic Canada" category — Ami McKay's The Birth House certainly does! — but will be featured on other lists throughout the week. One book, one list. If you see any other themes in the Top 40 titles, be sure to let us know!)

It's an eclectic bunch, in keeping with the region's reputation for rugged individuality.

First up, a quartet of books from the Rock.


Come, Thou Tortoise (Random House of Canada, 2009) by Jessica Grant

A cross-country plane trip to the bedside of a father in a coma in Newfoundland; a pet tortoise, Winnifred, left at the mercy of an unreliable friend in Oregon. Life holds its challenges for Audrey (a.k.a. Oddly) Flowers, the narrator of Jessica Grant's first novel. Book Club member Lorrie Morris called it "...a beautifully funny, quirky, poignant story that made me laugh as I cried... it is one of my all-time favourites."

Accolades: Come, Thou Tortoise was no slouch in the race for literary honours: it nabbed the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the BMO Winterset Award, which celebrates excellence in Newfoundland and Labrador writing. It was also a finalist for both the Ontario Library Association'sEvergreen Award and the Canadian Library Association's Young Adult Canadian Book Award (this is a novel for adults that can be enjoyed by younger readers, too).

February by Lisa Moore

February (House of Anansi, 2009) by Lisa Moore

In February, Lisa Moore uses a real-life tragedy (the sinking of the Ocean Ranger off the coast of Newfoundland in 1982) as the basis for a sensitive exploration of grief that won reader Penelope Williams's vote. She wrote:

"This is one of my top ten novels ever. Reasons? Spare beautiful prose, characters you want never to lose touch with because they are as real as family, strong sense of place [ ....] But most of all, her depiction and understanding of grief. How does a young writer understand with such empathy an older woman's feelings? Amazing. Moore is one of the writers today who can pierce your heart with one sentence eliciting an unexpected gust of tears, or causing a whoop of laughter (not the same sentence of course...). Her understanding of the human character resonates like a bell."

Accolades: February won an Independent Publisher Book Award, was named to the Globe and Mail's Top 100 Books of 2009 and was a New York Times Editors' Choice. It also showed up on the shortlist of numerous awards including the regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the BMO Winterset Award and the Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award.

Galore by Michael Crummey

Galore (Random House, 2009) by Michael Crummey

Kathy Neilson was one of many readers captivated by Michael Crummey's epic saga of rural Newfoundland, which she called "an essential Canadian book. It's a wonderful read — strong plot, irresistible characters, lovely and lyrical language. It is a vivid glimpse into Newfoundland history through the tensions between two families over five generations. The book's voice is a captivating and unique blend of landscape, myth, humour, and elemental human experience. This book will stay with you long after you have reached the satisfying last page."

Accolades: Michael Crummey's rollicking novel rocked the award lists, taking two prizes (the regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award) and making the shortlist of several others, including the Governor General's Award, the Atlantic Independent Booksellers' Choice Award and the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award.


Inside (Random House of Canada, 2006) by Kenneth J. Harvey

This unflinching story of a newly released ex-con's adjustment to life on the outside in a rough neighbourhood of St. John's was reader Craig Pyette's pick. He wrote: "Inside is the most effectively innovative and emotionally pointed Canadian novel of the decade. No boredom, stock characters or unlikely nonsense here. It's as precise as a needle in the bone — and after it's finished you feel it for just about as long."

Accolades: Critics and award juries obviously like 'em tough. Inside won the Rogers Writers' Trust Prize and the BMO Winterset Award and was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller. It was also named one of the top books of the year by Quill & Quire and the Globe and Mail among other media outlets.

And here are the fab four from Nova Scotia:


Drive-by Saviours (Fernwood Publishing, 2010) by Chris Benjamin

Chris Benjamin's tale of a cross-cultural friendship struck a chord with David Cribbs, who wrote "It's highly demonstrative of contemporary Canada: the story of an immigrant and a Canadian born, who meet on the subway, and whose lives come to intertwine. Many can relate to this book, it crosses cultural divides."

Accolades: Drive-by Saviours is hot off the press (it was published in September 2010), so it hasn't had much time to earn any laurels. But it won a rave review from critic Stephen Patrick Clare in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, who called it "one of the finest first narratives to emerge from Atlantic Canada in recent memory. Well-balanced and masterfully crafted with a prose that is both poignant and poised, the work is certain to be considered for literary awards."

Drive-by Saviours

Heave (Random House of Canada, 2002) by Christy Ann Conlin

This lively coming-of-age tale of Seraphina Sullivan, set in rural Nova Scotia, was recommended by Heather Morse, who wrote: "Set in Nova Scotia's beautiful Annapolis Valley, Heave is a fabulous read with vivid characters, authentic dialogue and a captivating plot. It's a bold look at a young woman's desire to escape her turbulent past while trying to grab onto an uncertain future..."

Accolades: Christy Ann Conlin's debut was a finalist for the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award and won rave reviews across the country, including from the Globe and Mail ("simply a marvellous book") and Vancouver Sun ("fresh as a sea breeze").

c7.jpgThe Bishop's Man (Random House of Canada, 2009) by Linden MacIntyre

Set in a remote Cape Breton village The Bishop's Man is a powerful exploration of the scandal of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church through the eyes of a conflicted priest. Jenny Ormson called it "brilliant. timely. economy of words. riveting. horrifying. beautiful. compelling. relevant. provoking."

Accolades: The Bishop's Man was a heavy hitter, winning a clutch of major prizes, led by the Scotiabank Giller Prize. (The others were the Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award, the Atlantic Independent Booksellers' Choice Award and the Dartmouth Book Award.)

Thumbnail image for c8.jpg

Twenty-Six (McClelland and Stewart, 2004) by Leo McKay Jr.

Here's what reader Jessie MacPhee had to say about Leo McKay's story of a family and a town devastated by a mining accident:

"I picked this because it is an extremely well written book that tells a story that is at the heart of Nova Scotian history. It captures the landscape and personality of the area, and through its stark yet beautiful prose it tells of a universal story of family, struggle, and hope."

Accolades: Winner of the Dartmouth Book Award, Twenty-Six was also a national bestseller and widely acclaimed by critics, including Maclean's magazine, which praised it for "Swift, honest, unsentimental storytelling and characters, both real and imagined, vivid enough to rise above their hard, often tragic lives."

So what do you think? Should any of these titles graduate to the Top 10? Weigh in by making a comment below, or via Facebook or Twitter. And don't forget to vote for your essential read in our Top 10 poll. The deadline is midnight ET on Sunday, November 7, so get your vote in!

Barbara Carey is an associate producer with Canada Reads and the CBC Book Club.

Comments are closed.