10 inspiring books to read over the holiday break

Pro bookworms choose their favourites of 2018.

Pro bookworms choose their favourites of 2018

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Perhaps you need a novel for a year-end vacation, or are looking for a compelling read to help you fight the winter blahs come January. Bestseller lists and newspaper reviews may be a good place to browse for new additions to your bookshelf, but even better is a personal recommendation from a dedicated and knowledgeable subset of readers: independent booksellers.

The sheer number of new releases (over 14,000 new titles are published in Canada each year!) and options on store shelves can be overwhelming. Consider these informed and discerning book experts a valuable resource for discovering great reads among the vast selection on offer. They shared their top, most beloved picks for the year exclusively with CBC Life. Here's why you might want to add these novels and non-fiction reads to your winter reading list.

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

Sarah Klassen, buyer at Mosaic Books in Kelowna, BC:

"As an O'Brien on my maternal side, I have a soft-spot for Irish writers and John Boyne is one of my faves. His new novel, A Ladder to the Sky had me wondering where do novelists get their ideas? How much do they take from overheard conversations of strangers and friends' stories shared in confidence? Where is the line in the sand between inspiration and plagiarism? […] The dialogue is sensationally snarky and wickedly funny as hell. I expect to see John Boyne receiving a ton of recognition for this voyeuristically fascinating character study."

I'm Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya

Alex Snider, co-owner of Queen Books in Toronto, ON:

"This is a very good time of year to celebrate, support, and buy books by those whose words you support. For us, this includes the many wildly talented published trans authors — especially as gender identity comes under attack by the Ontario government. A powerful and gorgeous read in a tiny package by the very talented writer and performer Vivek Shraya, I'm Afraid of Men is particularly apt today and we hope that it serves as a rallying call to cis ladies to stand up and fight for our trans sisters and brothers during these troubling times (and always, everyday, whenever necessary!)."   

Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck

Liz Burns, co-owner of Queen Books in Toronto, ON:

"Published in 2017, Go, Went, Gone is as timely a book as ever. A novel that tells the story of the relationship between an elderly widower and a group of refugees seeking asylum in Berlin. This is a book with startling humanity, empathy, and grace, both beautifully written and important."

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan

Stacey Kondla, customer service assistant at Owl's Nest Books in Calgary, AB:

"The Astonishing Color of After by debut American author Emily X. R. Pan is the most beautiful book. This is a YA novel with crossover appeal and is about a teenage girl who is half Chinese and half white. Her mother commits suicide and Leigh believes her mother has turned into a bird and is trying to tell her something. It is a book about suicide, grief, family, love and memory. The writing is a master class in imagery and the use of memories to evoke emotion. It rocked my world and I could talk about it all day!"

From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan

Lori Cheverie, manager of Bookmark in Charlottetown, PEI:

"My absolute favourite book of the year is From a Low and Quiet Sea. Book lovers will understand me when I say it was the book I carried around without starting because I didn't want to be finished! Ryan's writing reminds me of the great Alistair MacLeod — beautiful but haunting."

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Hannah Minett, owner and bookseller at The Bookshelf in Guelph, ON:

"All the sex in this book contrasts beautifully with the tales of constancy and profound love of the narrator's grandmother, who always made sure, without any surprise or fanfare, to celebrate his two-spirit experience. Moved to tears by this one."

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones

Stephanie Minett, owner and bookseller at The Bookshelf in Guelph, ON:

"With much humanity wiped by deadly parasites, fortunate survivors have retreated beyond the Salt Line, a barrier intended to keep the danger at bay. Others — by choice or necessity — have maintained a difficult but thriving existence outside of the Salt Line's protection. Thrilling and terrifying, highly recommended."

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Andrew Hood, bookseller and writer at The Bookshelf in Guelph, ON:

"The broad, repugnant, seemingly unrelatable traits of Moshfegh's characters are present in all of us. These people are like large, distant asteroids, filthy and sharp pieces of which have chipped off and landed here on earth, becoming part of our make-up."

Beirut Hellfire Society by Rawi Hage

David, co-owner at Words Worth Books in Waterloo, ON:

"For my money the best Canadian novel of the year was Rawi Hage's Beirut Hellfire Society. It's Slaughterhouse Five for our generation, or a Kite Runner with considerably more depth. A story of the Lebanese civil war that resonates on all levels."

All Our Relations: Finding The Path Forward by Tanya Talaga

Beck Andoff, manager at TYPE Books Junction in Toronto, ON:

"Talaga's Massey Lecture is a must-read for Canadians trying to be better and do better by Indigenous communities all across the continent. It's a harrowing subject that Talaga navigates with purpose and clarity, and she provides an invigorating call to action. A perfect read for empathic optimists and pessimists who need a way forward."

Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.


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