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Best Reads of 2019

Best Reads of 2019

There’s something magical about being truly gripped by a good book – the plot tugging at the back of your mind, the characters bouncing around in your subconscious. As a kid I loved to check out huge piles of Redwall novels and see how many I could finish before the due date. Now, as a librarian, part of my job is to keep a little database in my mind of great books and why they might appeal to someone. 2019 was an incredible year for books, and one of the best reading years of my life. I polished off 30,502 pages across 110 books and read a wide variety of non-fiction, literary fiction, suspense, fantasy, graphic novels, teen fiction, and children’s novels. Here’s a look at 3 of my favourite Canadian novels published in 2019:

I would give this book five out of five stars just for how deeply I enjoyed the magical dive into drag culture. Nima is a 17 year old bi-racial lesbian. She’s a little awkward, and a lot in love with a straight girl. It seems like she’s doomed to pine away in silence forever until she stumbles across the drag tent at the local fair. Almost immediately she meets the fabulous Deidre and is swept up into the glittery, exhilarating world of drag. Many queer books focus on devastating moments – rejection, abuse, fear. Those moments are real and important and I’m glad readers can experience them through YA novels. But it’s less common to find a queer book that centers on joy. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens is about the joy of being yourself, the joy of finding your people, and the joy of trying new things. Canadian author Tanya Boteju has given us a gripping coming-of-age story rich with diversity, and full to the brim with love.

Oculum by Philippa Dowding – Middle Grade (age 8 – 12) Dystopia

This remarkably original story takes place long after an apocalyptic environmental collapse wiped out most of humanity. Some humans survived and now live a life of farming and scavenging amongst the piles of garbage left by humanity. Bees and fruit have become extinct. In the middle of a rundown city is a giant pearly globe. 1000 children live inside, raised by robots called Mothers. They have no knowledge of the outside world. But they do have a seed library, and real fruit trees. What will happen when the two oldest children discover a door to the outside?

Similar to The Giver in quality, content, appeal, and originality, Oculum really is children’s literature. It’s written beautifully, simply, and thoughtfully, and covers subject matter that is not common enough in Middle Grade. Every scene can be pictured in vivid detail, and readers of any age will be desperate to learn more about this strange world.
Cover Image courtesy of Cormorant Books.

Albatross by Terry Fallis – Adult Comedy Fiction

Delightful is the word that comes to mind. Terry Fallis books always have a strong comedic premise – but they also have depth. They have a clear moral without being cheesy. And this is my favourite of them all.

Adam is a teenager who wants to be the next great Canadian novelist. When his gym teacher finds out he has the proportions of the ideal golf player — closer to perfect than has ever been discovered — he takes a different path. Golf comes so easily to him that his first ever swing rivals the skill of the top professionals. So begins the most apathetic professional athletic career in the history of sports. Oh, and there is a lovely romance, a deep platonic friendship, a backcountry camping trip, a kidnapping, and lots of obscure references to writing implements.
Surprisingly I enjoyed learning about golf, and getting a behind the scenes look at the glamour of professional sports. Early in the book Adam becomes richer than he ever dreamed possible, and I love what he chose to spend his money on. It’s fun to imagine a responsible, literary-minded Canadian having millions of dollars to spend. This is a rare book that will appeal to almost anyone: including people who don’t generally think of themselves as “readers.”


My favourite librarian perk is getting access to books before they are published. Imagine the thrill of reading a book before anyone else can. Luckily for you, one of the perks of knowing a librarian is getting to hear sneak peeks about all the best upcoming books! Here are two to look out for in March 2020.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel – Adult Literary Fiction

Ever since her smash debut Station Eleven in 2014, the literary world has been waiting for Mandel’s next novel. While The Glass Hotel isn’t a tale of the end of the world like Station Eleven was, it is every bit as imaginative and exciting. Told from the perspectives of multiple interconnected characters, we are thrown into the midst of a Ponzi scheme gone wrong. Part of the appeal is the vastness of settings in the novel; we travel from grungy Toronto dance clubs to a magnificent isolated hotel. From the kingdom of money to the monotonous daily life of prison. From hallucinations to ghost stories. Our characters are as vibrant as they were in Station Eleven. Vincent, a bright bartender turned trophy wife turned sailor on the run. Paul, a tortured soul and wannabe composer. A Saudi prince. An aging artist. A grieving criminal. The Glass Hotel will sweep you up and leave you wanting more. Publication coming March 2020.

Most of McGinnis’ YA novels read like a detailed fever dream. This one is no exception. You’ll at once be racing to finish, savoring every word, and scared to turn the page. Ashley was raised by a single father in poverty, and spent a lot of time playing outside. Wilderness survival is her hobby. Cross country running is her sport. When a camping trip with her boyfriend and her friends goes terribly wrong, Ashley runs drunkenly into the dark woods and falls. When she wakes up she’s all alone, the bones of her foot are exposed, and she doesn’t know which way the campsite is.

It’s a quick read, under 250 pages, but the journey feels so much longer. Ashley’s character develops immensely over the course of the story, and you can’t help but feel a little changed as the reader too. Publication coming March 2020.

Karissa Fast is a librarian at St. Catharines Public Library. Visit us online or at your closest branch to place a hold on any of the reviewed books.

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