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Home for the Holidays: 11 Must-Read New Releases

December’s best fiction brings gripping murder mysteries and thrillers about ballet school, 9/11, the Titanic and even a cruise to Cuba / BY Nathalie Atkinson / November 25th, 2021


You’ll want to sneak some time away from festive celebrations to enjoy the latest suspense and family drama on the page. Our pick of December’s best fiction brings gripping thrillers, including a thought-provoking one that plumbs the dark side of ballet, rounded out by affecting historical novels, such as an offering about the Titanic from the star of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

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. 

1Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel

This sure-footed debut novel by a first-generation Indian-American who grew up in Illinois revolves around a son’s fraught relationship with his mother in the aftermath of his father’s death. When he comes out to his mother, she shares secrets and regrets of her own, and explains that her life as a doting wife wasn’t as perfect as it seemed. It’s a moving story that reckons with reconciliation, identity and empathy, and Neel’s characters linger in the mind. (Dec. 7)


2The Hawthorne School by Sylvie Perry

Kirkus Reviews magazine dubbed this novel of psychological suspense, about a young, single parent who enrolls her troubled four-year-old at an exclusive academy, “a fable of Stepford children.” To add another creepy dimension, it’s written by an insider of sorts: Perry is the pseudonym of a Chicago-based psychotherapist who counsels survivors of narcissistic manipulation. (Dec. 7)


3The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Delphine, a prima ballerina now in her mid-thirties, has a big secret she shares with her onetime best friends. The captivating thriller (think: Black Swan) alternates between the present and their tangled emotional and psychological lives as teenagers at a Paris ballet academy. It’s the dark side of the graceful fairytale we see onstage, as much a pacey thriller as a cultural critique that goes behind the scenes to explore ideas of female agency and womanhood, and lay bare the gruelling, often paradoxical demands (and violence) behind the exquisite art form. (Dec. 7)

 


4White on White by Aysegul Savas

This slippery novel is about the progression of the unusual friendship that forms between a painter, Agnes, and a vague and unnamed student of indeterminate background and gender who moves into her upstairs studio apartment. It’s conceptual and slightly disquieting, and an ideal read for enthusiasts of Rachel Cusk’s similarly elusive narrators. (Dec. 7)


5Observations by Gaslight: Stories from the World of Sherlock Holmes by Lyndsay Faye

Sherlockians, rejoice! This new Holmes for the holidays offers new accounts of Victorian-era exploits. The bestselling author burst onto the scene in 2009 with Dust and Shadow, where the Baker Street detective came up against Jack the Ripper. These adventures are recounted in a variety of epistolary forms: they purport to be personal diaries, reminiscences and correspondence collected from friends of Holmes and Watson, and their views on the pair. The inventive guise hits its stride when his longtime antagonist opera singer Irene Adler, Inspector Lestrade and Baker Street landlady Mrs. Hudson have their say. (Dec. 7)

 


6Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim

The sweeping historical novel begins in 1917, when Korea has yet to be divided into north and south, and introduces several characters affected by the conflict: an impoverished hunter in occupied Korea, the Japanese officer he saves from an attacking tiger, a young, would-be courtesan and an orphan. This saga is set against the backdrop of the Korean independence movement and spans half a century of cultural and political tumult, but it’s about love, the bonds of friendship and survival. (Dec. 7)


7Absynthe by Brendan Bellecourt

Bellecourt is the nom de plume of epic fantasy writer Bradley P. Beaulieu (The Winds of Khalakovo) and this is his first speculative foray into an alternate-history of America. It’s a fast-paced, Art Deco-tinged thriller about a shell-shocked First World War veteran trying to piece himself together in Chicago during the Roaring Twenties. It’s like a Prohibition-era version of Philip K. Dick’sThe Man in the High Castle, complete with a shadowy government conducting disorienting experiments on memory and artificially intelligent beings called “mechanika.” (Dec. 7)

 


8The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

Bestselling writer Walter Mosley calls this novel about the unjust death of a Black man “a blues song cut straight from the heart.” A finalist for the Booker Prize, it’s based on the true story of Mahmood Mattan, the Somali merchant seaman wrongfully convicted and executed for murder in 1950s Wales, and a powerfully reimagined examination of miscarried justice that resonates today. (Dec. 14)


9Orphans of the Storm by Celia Imrie

This book from the esteemed character actress – star of Calendar Girls, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Miss Babs in beloved British comedy Acorn Antiques – is a historical novel about the sinking of the RMS Titanic. ( You can read Zoomer’s previous interview with the bestselling author about her writing life here.) It’s based on the remarkable true tale, which captured headlines in its day, of two young brothers who were put on the last lifeboat by their father, but there’s a lot more to the story. He had in fact kidnapped them during a bitter divorce battle with their mother, and perished in the disaster. The novel examines how the disintegration of a marriage led to these dramatic events. (Dec. 14)


10Death Under the Perseids: A Havana Mystery by Teresa Dovalpage

As the saying goes, it’s not the destination but the journey. In this cozy, engagingly escapist mystery, it’s a free cruise to Cuba that Mercedes, a Florida pet groomer, won in a raffle she doesn’t remember entering. The other old saw is that nothing is free and everything has to be paid for. True to that, the voyage turns treacherous when Mercedes discovers several people from her past not so coincidentally won the same trip and one of them dies under mysterious circumstances. We love a good cruise here at Zoomer, and this one’s no exception. (Dec. 7)


11Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea

A bestselling author’s grisly murder in 2001 opens this entertaining literary thriller before it makes its way to the present. The case was shelved and has been gathering dust since the accused, the deceased’s lover, perished in one of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 during a visit to her lawyer. When her remains are identified 20 years later, it inspires a ratings-seeking TV host to team up with a disgraced FBI agent to reopen the investigation. It turns out several people related to the case (including the host herself) are hiding relevant truths and trying to outrun what’s in the rearview mirror. (Dec. 28)


THE SCROLL

Salman Rushdie, Novelist Who Drew Death Threats, Is Stabbed at New York LectureThe Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked before giving a talk on artistic freedom.


Raymond Briggs, Creator of Beloved Children’s Tale ‘The Snowman’, Dies at 88First published in 1978, the pencil crayon-illustrated wordless picture book sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world while a television adaption became a Christmas favourite in Britain and was nominated for an Oscar.


Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Makes Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading ListObama's list includes everything from fiction to books on politics, cultural exploration and basketball.


Canadian Author Rebecca Eckler to Launch RE:books Publishing House Focused on Female Authors and Fun ReadsThe former National Post columnist says her tagline is ‘What’s read is good, and what’s good is read.’”


Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices AwardThe B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956


Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy."


The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.


American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history


Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro Among Canadian Authors Recognized in Commemorative Reading List Marking Queen’s Platinum JubileeThe authors are among six Canadian scribes included on the The Big Jubilee Read list.


Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."


New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.


Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.


Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."


European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."


Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.


Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.


Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.


Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro


“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.


Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories


Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel


South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 


Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.


Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events


Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards


Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde


Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 


Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members


Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations


Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


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