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> Novel Encounters

Home for the Holidays

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


December’s fiction includes topical literary tales and historical fiction with a Canadian twist, as well as several absorbing genre debuts. You’ll want to make plenty of time to read between all the festive Zoom calls with our most-anticipated picks for the month.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Perestroika in ParisJane Smiley

We’ll read anything with a title that includes the words “in Paris,” but especially when it’s by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of A Thousand Acres. A fanciful, anthropomorphic tale about a champion filly who slips out of her pen and into the lives (and home) of a boy and his nonagenarian grandmother in the City of Light, it’s Ratatouille as an equestrian novel, which sounds like the just whimsy we need right now. (Dec.1)


2Germania: A Novel of Nazi BerlinHarald Gilbers, trans. by Alexandra Rosech

Published in English for the first time, this series debut set against the background of war won the Glauser Prize for best German crime novel and went on to become an international hit series. It’s May, 1944 in Berlin, and Jewish detective Richard Oppenheimer is reactivated by the Gestapo and forced to work on the case of a serial murderer, all of whose victims seem to be linked to the Nazi party. Fans of Philip Kerr, rejoice. (Dec.1)


3Rest and Be Thankful Emma Glass

An overworked and sleep-deprived London nightshift nurse is on the verge of burnout in this short experimental novel by a former nurse that immerses the reader in visceral (and extremely tactile) hallucinatory imagery rather than plot. The effect is visceral and hypnotic—it may take place in a pediatric ward but it reads like fiction from the pandemic trenches. (Dec.1)


4The Opium Prince Jasmine Aimaq

In her debut novel, Aimaq, a former advisor on arms control who teaches at Quest University in B.C., draws heavily on her own childhood experience in Afghanistan. Set in 1970 in a country on the brink of revolution, the crime novel is told from the point of view of an Afghan-born American diplomat posted to Kabul who is in charge of poppy eradication efforts. Aimaq has said she hopes the historical novel sheds light on the rise of extremism and gives nuanced context to the complicated geopolitical situation around contemporary global issues like the heroin trade. (Dec. 1)


5Mysterious Dreams of the Dead Terry Watada

After he finds a dream diary belonging to the father who died in a plane crash in Northern Ontario when he was just a teen, 30-something Mike goes in search of the truth about him. Toronto playwright and journalist Watada weaves aspects of magic realism and kwaidan, a Japanese ghost story, into this novel that continues his exploration of Japanese-Canadian history and community — in this case, the profound effect of exile and internment on subsequent generations. (Dec. 7)


6D: A Tale of Two Worlds Michel Faber

True to his word, acclaimed Scottish novelist Faber has stopped writing adult fiction, but fans of his Victorian thriller The Crimson Petal and the White or cult sci-fi novel Under the Skin
will want to read his new politically charged novel, technically for young adults. It’s set between England and a wintry fantasy world. The D stands for the 13-year-old heroine Dhikilo, as well as for the letter D, which has suddenly disappeared from the language. It’s also for Dickens, because the decidedly Oz and Narnia-like modern fable is a tribute commissioned to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the author’s death. (Dec. 8)


7…And This is The Cure Annette Lapointe

In her new novel, the Giller-nominated Alberta writer tackles a story of a pop-culture radio host and former frontwoman of a 90s riot grrrl band. The family conflicts are tricky and layered as she deals with her own traumatic past as a runaway from a conservative Christian family while parenting her own angry teenager. She’s also dealing with the expectations of a band reunion tour and balancing the challenges of caring for her estranged, elderly mother. (Dec. 15)


8The Chanel Sisters Judithe Little

In 1919 Paris, Antoinette Chanel married a Canadian lawyer and airman named Oscar Fleming and moved to Windsor, Ont. The wedding gown, naturally, was by her famous fashion designer-sister Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. This historical novel retraces the siblings’ rags-to-riches story and bond, from their poverty-stricken childhood in a French convent orphanage through Coco’s triumphs in Paris, and their respective romances. It even touches on the little-discussed Chanel CanCon of Antoinette’s brief and unhappy stint as Fleming’s wife. (Dec. 29)


9Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder T.A. Willberg

The operatives of shadow spy agency called Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries exist in the underground labyrinth of tunnels beneath the streets of 1958 London. When the agency’s hateful file clerk is murdered, our resourceful titular apprentice is charged with investigating the seemingly impossible locked-room mystery. A debut novel that already has early readers clamouring for a series. (Dec. 29)


10The Wrong Family Tarryn Fisher

This psychological suspense is about what happens with 67-year-old Juno, a retired psychotherapist, moves in with the apparently happy Crouch family in Seattle. Overheard conversations between the couple, Nigel and Winnie, set a chain of events and assumptions in motion (alternately narrated by Juno and Winnie). Since it promises more twists than a corkscrew, it should be the perfect New Year’s at-home read. (Dec. 29)


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