> Novel Encounters

Warm Up to Winter

We've sorted through November's stacks to suggest the best 10 fiction books to crack / BY Nathalie Atkinson / November 1st, 2020


As the days get shorter this month, fall back into the pages one of the many new pacey Canadian reads out this month, from longtime Western political journalist Mark Lisac’s latest ‘90s-set political thriller Image Decay to Sarah Fox’s latest literary pub mystery The Malt in Our Stars and a new Father Christmas cozy mystery from C.C. Benison. Here are our best November fiction picks.

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1>Fortune and Glory by Janet Evanovich

When we last saw feisty Grandma Mazur she had married a mobster, but he died on their wedding night. The inventive Evanovich, 77, is back with a welcome dose of escapism through her swashbuckling heroine Stephanie Plum, who is more sarcastic than ever in sticky situations. The hapless bounty hunter’s love triangle with cop Morelli and dark horse Ranger continues, and her sidekick Lula remains perpetually hungry, but that takes a backseat as she tries to keep her grandmother safe while low-rent mobsters search for her late husband’s treasure in and around the strip malls of New Jersey. (Nov. 3)


2>Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Curiosity about a species of golden beetle first spotted in 1914 inspires Margery Benson, a disenchanted 40-something home economics teacher, to abandon her classroom and hit the road. Her advertisement for a companion to join her as she researches the insect in New Caledonia – an island in the South Pacific – arrives in the form of eccentric Enid. Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, chronicled the journey of a man who walked hundreds of miles to see an old friend; here she explores the value of friendship and sense of purpose in the lives of the so-called “leftover women” in the wake of the Second World War as they embark on a far-flung journey. (Nov. 10)


3>Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent

The warring siblings of Succession come to mind in the description of Nugent’s latest intrigue, except these brothers are competing for the affection and attention of an imperious matriarch. The narrative flashes back and forth to crucial incidents in the 1970s and 1980s – their teen years – in this delicious psychological suspense. The question is, when all three are unreliable narrators, whose story do you believe? (Nov. 10)


4>Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

This follow-up to Magpie Murders is as fast-moving and complex as you’d expect from the prolific screenwriter, who’s not only an alumnus of Midsommer Murders and the creator of the British TV series Foyle’s War, but has written several crime series and been tapped for authorized novels by the estates of Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming. In Magpie Murders, London books editor Susan Ryeland solved the murder of her author Alan Conway through his work. Here she has semi-retired in Crete and runs a small tourist hotel (not altogether successfully), but must return to England and re-investigate village secrets surrounding a past murder. Soon Ryeland is a guest at a stately Suffolk inn where her bothersome late author and his fictional detective Atticus Pund rear up again. Horowitz uses the same novel-within-a-novel to uncover the roman à clef elements Pund stole from the real-life murder to solve it. (Nov. 10)

 


5>Cobble Hill by Cecily von Ziegesar

If the name rings a bell, it’s because von Ziegesar is the author of the book series that gave rise to the teen TV series Gossip Girl. She’s back with a caustic look at inter-parental relations that orbit a public school in Brooklyn. With a plot about the secrets hidden by infighting and competitive parents, no wonder this darkly comic dramedy of Gen-X failures reckoning with the TikTok generation has earned the novel comparisons to Liane Moriarty and Tom Perrotta. (Nov. 10)


6>Why the Rock Falls by J.E. Barnard

The third installment in Barnard’s Arthur Ellis Award-winning Falls mystery series has a dramatic setting: the Alberta foothills, with all the scenery and threat of eco-protesters that entails. Questions of greed, inheritance and paternity come into play and must be solved by Lacey, a former RCMP officer with PTSD who’s left both the force and an abusive marriage, and Jan, an art curator. Barnard lays the ground with character development before plunging into breathless adventure with the murder and the disappearance of a wealthy cattle and oil baron that involves perilous climbs in the Ghost River Wilderness Area. Expect a striking true portrait of the disabling and complex illness, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/ chronic fatigue syndrome, as Jan progresses from housebound to making her way back to the career she loves. (Nov. 14)


7>I Am Ariel Sharon by Yara El-Ghadban

The tale opens in January 2006 in Tel Aviv where, in real life, the Israeli prime minister is felled by a stroke a few months before the election and falls into an eight-year coma. From here, Palestinian-Quebecker El-Ghadban’s provocative novel imagines Sharon’s interior consciousness with inventive points of view. Beginning with his mother Vera, he’s visited by women – including his wives Lily and Gali – but not at his bedside. They come through the soothing voice of his nurse, and address the man known as the grandfather of the nation with recriminations about his personal and political transgressions, as well as his crimes against humanity, like a haunting Greek chorus. (Nov. 17)

 


8>Better Luck Next Time by Kate Hilton

Canadian novelist Hilton’s new novel tracks a year in the life of feminist icon Lydia Hennessey and her extended family, including her three adult daughters and their families. Reviewers have likened Hilton’s witty and deeply observant writing to Nora Ephron and she covers the same ground – it’s a complicated tangle of midlife identity crises, teen rebellion, aging bodies, divorce and insecurities. In this case, picture a messier Gloria Steinem by way of King Lear. (Nov. 24)

 


9>Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

Cline’s debut novel, the science-fiction phenomenon Ready Player One, spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list before it was adapted for film by Steven Spielberg in 2018. Two is set in the same dystopian future, where a multiplayer virtual reality game called OASIS reigns, and it is another quest steeped in ‘80s pop culture nostalgia (Atari, Dungeons & Dragons). But the highly anticipated sequel’s plot synopsis had been a closely guarded secret until Cline offered a teaser in his panel at New York Comic Con: Hero Wade finds another technological advancement left by the video game’s billionaire creator that will make OASIS even more addictive, and now there’s a new foe. “Not only the virtual universe at stake but the fate of humanity itself,” according to Cline’s big reveal. (Nov. 24)


10>Pianos and Flowers: Brief Encounters of the Romantic Kind by Alexander McCall Smith

Each of these affecting short stories was inspired by images from The Sunday Times photographic archive, without knowing the identity or context of the people featured in them. They have all the charm that McCall Smith, who writes the wildly popular No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and other series, is known for: He created stories based on what he imagined the pictures in the British newspaper’s vaults depicted. “That is the joy of looking at photographs this way,” the author says in the preface, “from the tiniest visual clue we can create a whole hinterland of experience – of love, of hope, of simply being human.” (Dec. 1)


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Novel Encounters: 10 Great Fiction ReadsFrom Some of Our Favourite Writers