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Favourite Fiction of 2019


Our staff pick their favourite fiction titles from 2019. Sink into a chair and revel in some of the best fiction we've come across so far. For nonfiction staff picks, award winners and more, head over to our Recommended Reads page.

Rooney, Sally.
Normal people

Connell and Marianne are high school sweethearts, and yet they do not make their relationship public. Marianne would like to, but Connell wants to keep their relationship under wraps, because being on the football team and a part of the “in crowd” he feels that Marianne wouldn’t fit into his world. This rejection not only takes a toll on Marianne, but it also shapes the woman that she will become. It takes a while for Connell to realize that Marianne has been his one true friend all along, and knew him on a deeper level than anyone else. When they reach college and meet all new people, Connell is suddenly the shy one with nothing to say, while Marianne blossoms socially. Interestingly, with all of this attention, she really only wants to be with Connell, who is starting to understand the error of his ways. This is a well-written story that shows how someone with no self-esteem can sink almost beyond rescue; while at the same time it shows how hope and the love of a friend can be life saving. Jennifer (Clemens Mill Library)

Donoghue, Emma

I loved this story about eighty-year-old Noah, and his newly found eleven-year-old grand- nephew, Michael. On the eve of a long-awaited trip to his hometown of Nice, France, Noah learns that he has become the last available living relative of Michael. Noah agrees to be his temporary guardian, and they end up taking the trip to France together, with life-changing results. Jennifer (Clemens Mill Library)

Chbosky, Stephen.
Imaginary friend

This has to be the most unexpected book of the year for me. When I picked up this second novel by Stephen Chbosky, best known for writing the YA classic, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I wasn’t imagining I’d get a horror story to rival the epics of Stephen King in the 1970s. But that’s exactly what this book is: a character-driven nightmare set in a small town that made me think of IT and The Stand at their most imaginatively weird. Like the aforementioned books, this one is long, at 700 pages, but it’s a worth it for a tale that manages to combine chills and storytelling twists with a humane perspective that always allows its characters a chance at redemption. (Meghan, QS)

Mbue, Imbolo.
Behold the dreamers

Jende and Neni Jonga immigrate to New York City from Cameroon, hoping to create their own version of the American Dream and improve the prospects of their young son. Jende secures a job as chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a Wall Street executive, entangling his family’s lives with the privileged Upper West Side existence of the Edwards family. With time, it becomes clear that the American dream in which the Jongas believed conceals a dark, more nightmarish quality under its pristine surface. Engagingly written with vivid characters and a resonant message, this is a story that will linger with you long after you turn the final page. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)

Hart, Rob
The warehouse

What is the everyday human cost of ordering anything and everything online, with the expectation of one-day shipping and instant gratification? The Warehouse is a dystopian novel that takes this question as far as it can go. It imagines a society completely dependent on Cloud, an all-powerful, ever-present Internet corporation. One day, a corporate spy slips into the ranks of Cloud’s over-worked warehouse employees. Her presence threatens the careful balance of power between the terminally ill CEO, his potential successors and countless workers, all vying for survival. Like a lot of good science fiction, this novel takes contemporary realities and turns them into a nightmarishly plausible vision of the future. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)

Ramzipoor, E. R.
The ventriloquists

This unusually assured debut novel reminded me what true bravery is. Loosely based on the true story of the Faux Soir newspaper, this tale speculates on what might have happened during the secret Belgian resistance operation to produce a satirical newspaper mocking Hitler and the occupying Nazi forces. Led by prankster journalist Marc Aubrion, a ragtag crew of smugglers, saboteurs, rogue professionals and street-wise urchins work together to defy the evils of the Nazi regime with laughter, even if it will cost them their lives. This is a story that balances humour and unspeakable human tragedy on a knife’s edge, while adding in the thrills and inventiveness of a heist caper. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)

Lanchester, John.
The wall

This novel was a real revelation. At the very least one of the best novels of the year. Set in the near future on a very British kind of island, Joseph K. has been drafted to protect the island from "the others" by working as a sentinel on a wall that encircles the island. Lanchester's writing is clear and precise. Dystopian? Yes, but this novel is much better than your typical near-future novels that have recently flooded the market. For one his timing is perfect, his characters more real, and the cliches few. A must read!
Phil (Queen's Square Library)

Doten, Mark
Trump [crossed out] sky alpha

This experimental novel begins with President Trump authorizing nuclear Armageddon from a special presidential Zeppelin bound for Mar-A-Lago. It only gets more surreal from there, as a traumatized reporter investigates how the end of the world was triggered by an online conspiracy. This novel is best suited for readers who enjoy a book that lets its ideas and themes run rampant, providing plenty of social and technological commentary. It gets weird and goes to some dark places, so prepare yourself! In embracing absurdity, this novel manages the rare feat of capturing the cartoonish nature of contemporary politics, as well as the anarchic spirit of Internet memes and hacker culture. Meghan (QS)

Tudor, C. J.
The hiding place

here is something strange happening in this mining town in the north of England. Children go missing out of the blue and when they return, they are different…and frightening. A cynical teacher is determined to find the truth. Part mystery, part horror, this novel is perfect for Stephen King fans or anyone else who enjoys tales of creepy small towns populated with memorable characters. Meghan (QS)

Chiaverini, Jennifer.
Resistance women

"Never become accustomed to the extraordinary and outrageous... little by little you'll learn to accept anything. Ordinary, reasonable people had become flag waving slogan-shouting fanatics." True then, sounds familiar today. Excellent read. Sue C.(Staff)

Owens, Delia.
Where the crawdads sing

This book was fantastic! It's the sad yet hopeful story of Kya Clark, aka The Marsh Girl. If you want a story that is a coming of age story, a love story and a murder mystery, this is the book for you. But to say it is only those things is a disservice - it's a story of resilience, hope, survival, love, loss, loneliness, desperation, prejudice, determination, strength and family. This is one of those special books that stays with you for a long time. Very Highly Recommended. Carroll (Staff)

Blum, Yoav.
The coincidence makers

Meet Emily, Guy, and Eric. They are coincidence makers, people who engineer coincidences to influence the lives of everyday people. Whether it’s organizing a certain song to play on the radio at a specific moment, or having a coffee cup fall in just the right way, they fulfill their missions by setting up events to nudge people into changing their own lives. Maybe their mission involves getting an accountant to become the world-renowned poet he is meant to be, or having two people meet and fall in love. Every coincidence is a little puzzle as you try to figure out how it’s going to create the change the characters need. Sometimes you need a book that is unlike anything else and I loved this one! It will leave you in a good mood and looking differently at the coincidences in your own life! The author makes you believe in this world where people work behind-the-scenes and practice coincidence making to help other people. All the random bits in the book connect and the ending has a sweet, yet unexpected twist. Take a chance on this one! (Previously published in The Waterloo Region Record, June 8, 2019) Jessica (Staff) (Hespeler Library)

Winters, Ben H.
Golden State

Lazlo Ratesic is a long time detective, trained in the science of detecting lies and ruptures in a place that values truth telling above all.Told in the time-honoured hard-boiled style detective fiction, Ratesic is called to investigate the death of a man, assigned a new partner he doesn't want, and is inevitably drawn into a vast conspiracy. Golden State is neither pure detective nor science fiction novel, rather it's a mostly sharp critique of contemporary society. Phil (Queen's Square)

Alexis, André
Days by moonlight

Come for a journey through an Ontario you never knew. Botanist Alfred Homer joins literary sleuth Professor Bruno searching for the lost poet John Skennen, in what may be the funniest novel of the year. Alexis has a keen eye for characters and his satiric wit is unmatched. Phil (Queens Square)

Luiselli, Valeria
Lost children archive

How you respond to this book will depend on how you feel about novels that blur the line between fiction, memoir, biography and history. If you're a fan of W.G. Sebald, you're in for a treat. The novel follows the trip of two archivists traveling across the country. It is a novel of relationships (told from a variety of viewpoints), a document of how we attempt to understand the world and ourselves, and an attempt to make sense of identity in the current political climate. Phil, Queen's Sqaure

Orange, Tommy
There there

Orange's writing is biting, profane and at times brilliant. There there refers initially to a Gertrude Stein quote about her childhood home of Oakland, and the way in which this quote has been remembered incorrectly. Orange creates the there, there by telling a story of an upcoming Pow Wow in Oakland, in a variety of different characters and voices. Central to this novel is the idea of "never stop telling our story", and Orange does not disappoint. (Phil, Queen's Square)

Jalaluddin, Uzma.
Ayesha at last

Pride and prejudice with a multicultural Canadian twist! I loved this book! Whether you love Jane Austen or not, this is a fascinating, sparkling romance of two opposites with wonderful characters that you'll root for. Teacher Ayesha is the sensible one in her family although she secretly yearns to be a poet. Misunderstandings abound as conservative Khalid at first thinks she's a loose woman and Ayesha thinks he's a rigid jerk who wants to keep women down. Their journey towards love while trying to deal with their families and community is highly entertaining. I couldn't put it down! Leah (Queen's Square Library)

Kingsolver, Barbara.

This prescient novel features a multi-generational family live together in a heritage house that's falling apart – much like their economic stability. At the same time, it tells the story of the house’s previous occupants, a family living in a 19th century utopian community called Vineland, who struggle to reconcile interest in Darwinian evolution with the religious beliefs of their neighbours. This is literature that isn’t afraid to be divisive and delves unabashedly into contemporary politics in a way that’s reminiscent of the crusading Victorian novelists such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. Some readers may find this social consciousness a mite preachy, while others may find it refreshing and a case of literature speaking truth to power. In other words, this novel is perfect for book clubs that enjoy a spirited debate! Personally, I couldn’t put it down and I’m still rolling the novel’s ideas through my mind. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)

Holiday, Jenny
One and only

If you love witty banter and romantic comedies, then this book is for you! I couldn’t stop reading! I loved the characters so much! In order to escape her bridezilla friend, responsible Jane takes on the duty of keeping the groom’s brother out of mischief. Troublemaker Cameron has just finished his tour of duty and is ready to let loose. But soon all he wants to do is get under the skin of prim, pretty Jane. Can he convince her to take a walk on the wild side? Leah (Staff) (Queen's Square Library) 25/04/19

Markley, Stephen.

I think it was David Letterman who asked Neil Armstrong why so many people who were born in Ohio felt the need to become astronauts and try to leave the planet. Markley will provide several reasons in this tightly wound book set in the epicentre of the opioid epidemic; a meth ground zero that tracks the lives of several high schoolers who have arrived back in town after the death of one of their friends. I’d call it an early novel of the year contender. It's sweaty, parched, and buzzing on lack of sleep. Phil (Staff) (Queen's Square Library) 02/05/19

Askew, Claire
All the hidden truths

Though found in the Mystery section Askew's novel is more thinker than page-turner. Its violence feels real and shocking instead of glorifying and distancing. A psychologically compelling novel that both captures the glibness of current media, yet slides beneath the surface to expose a deeper sense of purpose. Phil (Staff) (Queen's Square Library) 02/05/19

Leckie, Ann.
The Raven tower

Since the publication of Ancillary Justice, her 2013 Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke award-winning science fiction epic, Ann Leckie has stood out as an author who takes chances. Based on that reputation, it should probably come as no surprise that Leckie’s first foray into fantasy is similarly unconventional. Believe it or not, this is a story written from the perspective of a rock containing the consciousness of a god! The tale veers between philosophical chats between minor deities and intense political intrigue in the court of a mysterious power taking the shape of a Raven. For those who like rule-breaking, cerebral fantasy narratives that make you think about history, culture and the origins of magic, this is a story that will challenge your expectations. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)

Turton, Stuart.
The seven deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

What a novel! Every day, Aiden Bishop wakes up in a different person, a key witness or suspect in the unsolved murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. He has eight days, in eight different “hosts” to solve the murder or he’ll lose all his memories and be forced to repeat the whole thing again and again. The only way to escape is to solve the murder. In the hands of a lesser author an intricate plot like this would fall apart, but Stuart Turton keeps everything connected and all the seemingly random moments come together beautifully. Not only the mystery of the murder, but the mystery of why Aiden Bishop is in this situation will give you something to talk about and make you tell every one you know to read this book. Great for book clubs. I look forward to more from Turton! Jessica (Staff) (Hespeler Library)

Chŏng, Yu-jŏng
The good son

This compelling novel of psychological suspense was a runaway hit in South Korea and now it’s making waves in English translation. One morning, Ju-jin wakes up to find his mother dead. His clothes are covered in her blood and he’s suffering some gaping holes in his memory of the night before. He races to hide the evidence of her murder and uncover what happened, but his other family members keep prying, when they’re not reminding him to take his medication. This is a slim volume but it packs a punch. Prepare yourself for a complex and disturbing thriller with an unreliable narrator, much in the spirit of twisted, page-turning bestsellers like Gone Girl. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)

Shriver, Lionel.

Shriver's collection of two novellas and several short stories are unafraid to take on the cultural norms of the times. In Property, the stories revolve around the theme of ownership and the effect things have on our lives. In some ways she takes some easy shots: In "Domestic Terrorism", the "terrorist" is a young millennial who refuses to move out of his parents home. It is sharp and funny though, in its satire. The two novellas are sharply drawn, full of wit and sarcasm. And as Shriver has made clear in several interviews, she rejects much of what we call "identity" politics, and her politics are all over these stories. She is then, an author who answers to no one but herself. Joyce Carol Oates should be proud. Phil (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)

Barker, Pat
The silence of the girls

Briseis, the story teller in this mythological re-telling, tells her story of her life as a woman, wife and spoil of war. She bluntly sums up her existence: “I do what countless women before me have been forced to do. I spread my legs for the man who killed my husband and my brothers.” Barker's re-examination of the lives of women, is both unflinching in its portrayal of war, and as true today as it was more than two thousand years ago. Phil (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)

Clement, Jennifer.
Gun love

Pearl isn’t your ordinary kid – for one thing, she lives in a broken-down car by a Florida trailer park. This unforgettable novel will guide into Pearl’s strange world, populated by born-again preachers, veterans with PTSD, two-headed alligators and lots of people who love their guns. You’ll either love or hate the distinctively poetic writing style and oddball characters but I found that I fell on the “love” side with this one. On a crowded bookshelf, it will stand out from anything else you’ve read. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)

Shannon, Samantha
The priory of the orange tree

This book is magnificent, a gorgeously written fantasy epic that manages to build a memorable story in a single (albeit, very large and brick-like) installment. In the western hemisphere, a dragon-slaying warrior-priestess guards the queen of a foreign realm, whose heir may be able to prevent the re-emergence of a terrible evil. However, she finds it hard to keep her growing feelings for the people of the court from intervening in her assignment. In the eastern hemisphere, an ambitious young woman training to be a dragon rider decides to spare the life of an unwelcome stranger and finds that her life is forever changed. These two plot-lines come together in surprising ways, uniting east and west in a battle to stop a world-ending threat. Prepare yourself for a binge read! Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)

Greengrass, Jessie

A beautifully written novel about a woman coming to terms with her dying mother and motherhood. Greengrass artfully winds together the historical (Freud's psychoanalysis; Williams Rontgen's discovery of X-Rays) into a meditation on the ways we look at the world. This is Greengrass's debut novel. Phil (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)