Books·Gift Guide

24 Canadian books to get the historical fiction fan this holiday season

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.

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 by Suzette Mayr

An author with gray and black hair holds her book while standing on stage.
Suzette Mayr is the author of the novel The Sleeping Car Porter. (John Kristalovich/Scotiabank Giller Prize)

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.

Suzette Mayr is a poet and novelist based in Calgary. She is also the author of the novels Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley HallMonocerosMoon HoneyThe Widows and Venous Hum

LISTEN | Suzette Mayr reacts to winning the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize:

It's Canada's biggest literary prize with a cash purse of $100,000. The morning after the Scotiabank Giller Prize was awarded, Tom Power caught up with this year's winner, Suzette Mayr, for a chat about her award-winning novel The Sleeping Car Porter.

All the Quiet Places by Brian Thomas Isaac

All the Quiet Places is a novel by Brian Thomas Isaac. (Touchwood Editions)

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:

Okanagan First Nation writer Brian Thomas Isaac's debut is a window into a unique Indigenous boy's childhood.

When We Lost Our Heads by Heather O'Neill

Heather O'Neill is a Canadian novelist, poet, short story writer, screenwriter and journalist. (HarperCollins Canada, J Artacho)

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:

If Heather O'Neill hadn't been able to get her first novel published, she figured she'd open a laundromat. An extreme and imaginative idea; much like her latest book 'When We Lost Our Heads'. O'Neill's fifth novel is a fresh contribution to feminist literature -- centering two little girls in Victorian era Montreal who are channeling some of the crazed key players of the French Revolution.

Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

Bloomsbury Girls is a book by Natalie Jenner. (Sarah Sims, St. Martin's Press)

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 by Dawn Promislow

Wan is a book by Dawn Promislow. (Freehand Books)

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 by Shyam Selvadurai

Toronto-based author Shyam Selvadurai's latest novel is Mansions of the Moon. (Kevin Kelly, Knopf Canada)

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:

Shyam Selvadurai, author of Mansions of the Moon, takes the Next Chapter's Proust questionnaire.

We, Jane by Aimee Wall

Aimee Wall is a writer and translator from Newfoundland. We, Jane is her debut novel. (Richmond Lam, Book*Hug Press)

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:

"If you want to write about the difficulties of accessing abortion, you don't actually need to look to the past or to invent some possible future." Aimee Wall talks about her first book "We, Jane" and what its group of rural Newfoundland women have to say about reproductive rights.

Vile Spirits by John MacLachlan Gray

Vile Spirits is a novel by John MacLachlan Gray. (Douglas & McIntyre, Brian K. Smith)

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 by Kurt Palka

The Orphan Girl is a novel by Kurt Palka. (Heather Chisvin, McClelland & Stewart)

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 — Claraa Hammett Prize finalist set in 1930s Vienna, The Piano Makera national bestselling book set in 1930s Canada, and The Hour of the Foxwhich 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 by Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak is the author of The School of Mirrors. (Stanisław Jerzmański, Doubleday Canada)

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 by Nancy Lam

The Loyal Daughter is a book by Nancy Lam. (At Bay Press)

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.

Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall

Looking for Jane is a book by Heather Marshall. (Simon & Schuster Canada, Amanda Kopcic)

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:

"Looking For Jane" is the debut novel by author Heather Marshall. The novel looks at a part of Canadian history many of us aren't aware of. Between 1945 and 1971 almost 600,000 babies were born to unwed mothers through the government and church "Maternity Homes System." These births were recorded as “illegitimate” and many of women were forced or coerced into surrendering their babies for adoption. Heather Marshall shares the story to Gill Deacon for Here and Now’s Tuesday afternoon book club.

Bluebird by Genevieve Graham

Bluebird is an historical fiction novel by Genevieve Graham. (Simon & Schuster, Nicola Davison)

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 EdgeLetters Across the SeaCome From Away and The Forgotten Home Child.

LISTEN | Genevieve Graham on how the history of Windsor inspired her latest novel:

Bestselling author Genevieve Graham is releasing a new book today - set in Windsor. The historical fiction writer joins host Chris dela Torre to talk more about "Bluebird," and the research she uncovered about the history of Windsor.

The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke, 20th Anniversary Edition

Dundurn Press is releasing a special 20th-anniversary edition of late writer Austin Clarke's award-winning novel The Polished Hoe in September 2022. (Dundurn Press, Steve Carty)

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:

Austin Clarke, a frank and thoughtful critic

4 years ago
Duration 7:21
A young Austin Clarke speaks with the CBC's Anna Cameron.

Nosy Parker by Lesley Crewe

Nosy Parker is a book by Lesley Crewe. (Nimbus Publishing, Nicola Davison)

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 HappinessThe 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:

Former Montrealer Lesley Crewe's latest novel is about a 12-year-old girl who is looking to solve a mystery. Any mystery, in fact, but the one she really wants to solve is the story of her mother. Set in Montreal's NDG neighborhood during Expo '67, Crewe talks about why this is such a special place and time for her as well as the complexities of her main character.

The Taste of Hunger by Barbara Joan Scott

The Taste of Hunger is a book by Barbara Joan Scott. (Freehand Books, Jazhart Studios)

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 by Chelene Knight

Junie is B.C. author Chelene Knight's first novel. (Bookhug Press/Jon McRae)

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.

Chelene Knight on the inspiration behind her novel, Junie.

Fayne by Ann-Marie MacDonald

A composite photo of book cover featuring a painting of a landscape next to the author, wearing glasses with short born hair.
Fayne is a novel by Ann-Marie MacDonald. (Knopf Canada)

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 KneesThe Way the Crow Flies, and Adult OnsetFall 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:

Ann-Marie MacDonald is one of Canada's most celebrated writers. Her debut novel, Fall on Your Knees, was a runaway hit when it came out in 1996, taking the literary world by storm. MacDonald brings that same sharp writing to her latest novel, Fayne, which is set in the late 19th century at a crumbling estate that straddles the border between England and Scotland. She sat down with Tom Power to tell us more.

The Lost Century by Larissa Lai

The Lost Century is a book by Larissa Lai. (Arsenal Pulp Press)

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 FluSalt 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.

We Should Not Be Afraid of the Sky by Emma Hooper

We Should Not Be Afraid of the Sky is a book by Emma Hooper. (Penguin Canada, Sean Maylon)

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. 

Emma Hooper is a musician and novelist originally from Alberta. Her other books include the novels Etta and Otto and Russell and James and Our Homesick Songs.

LISTEN | Emma Hooper on We Should Not Be Afraid Of The Sky:

Former Edmontonian and international best-selling author Emma Hooper has released a new book. We Should Not Be Afraid Of The Sky tells the story of five sisters trying to survive in Portugal during the age of the Roman Empire. Emma joins us to discuss her new novel and debuts new music she's been working on with her string quartet on Daybreak.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a book by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. (Del Rey)

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 NoiseGods of Jade and ShadowUntamed ShoreThe Beautiful Ones and Velvet Was the Night

LISTEN | Silvia Moreno-Garcia on The Daughter of Doctor Moreau:

Silvia Moreno-Garcia talks to Shelagh Rogers about her novel, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau0).

Haven by Emma Donoghue

Haven is a novel by Emma Donoghue. (HarperCollins Canada, Mark Raynes Roberts)

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 LandingRoomFrog MusicThe WonderThe Pull of the Stars and the children's book The Lotterys Plus OneRoom was an international bestseller and was adapted into a critically acclaimed film starring Brie Larson.

LISTEN | Emma Donoghue on Haven:

Author Emma Donoghue has an uncanny talent for revealing humanity in the most inhumane of circumstances. She joined Tom Power to tell us why she chose an inhospitable rock in the middle of the ocean as the setting for her new novel, Haven, and gave us a sneak peek into her latest book-to-film adaptation, The Wonder.

My Indian Summer by Joseph Kakwinokanasum

My Indian Summer is a book by Joseph Kakwinokanasum. (Tidewater, Tracy Hetherington)

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:

Sooke-based Indigenous author Joseph Kakwinokanasum talks about his debut novel which tackles intergenerational trauma through a coming-of-age story.

Hotline by Dimitri Nasrallah

A composite photo of a book cover, featuring the word HOTLINE repeated in loud colours and the book's author, a man whit short hair and glasses looking straight at the camera.
Hotline by is a book by Dimitri Nasrallah. (Esplanade Books, Bruno Destombes)

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 BleedsNikowhich 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:

Dimitri Nasrallah tells Sabrina about his novel 'Hotline' and how he feels about making the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist.

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