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February’s Best Fiction: 11 Must-Read Books

The secret lives of parents are revealed in "The Family Chao," "Black Cake," "The Swimmers" and "The Secret Love Letters of Olivia Moretti" / BY Nathalie Atkinson / January 27th, 2022


Our pick of the month’s best fiction features a new novel from Heather O’Neill, a #MeToo moment on a college campus, sexual awakening and “sex magic,” as well as loads of family secrets and locales from the Amalfi Coast to the Caribbean.

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. 

1When We Lost Our Headsby Heather O'Neill

From Giller Prize finalist O’Neill (The Girl Who Was Saturday Night) comes a historical novel set against a backdrop of mounting class and labour unrest in Victorian Montreal. It follows the lifelong relationship between two women, one a privileged sugar factory heiress, the other a more streetwise newcomer. Their intense childhood friendship leads to dangerous behaviour with fatal consequences. Although it separates them, they find one another irresistible and, over the years, that magnetism draws them back, leaving a trail of devastation. (Feb. 1)


2Vladimirby Julia May Jonas

While their relationship isn’t as volatile as George and Martha’s from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the academic couple at the centre of this #MeToo campus novel is just as toxic. The wife, a popular professor in her late 50s, narrates it with a sense of resignation as she navigates the fallout from her husband’s inappropriate affairs and has a sexual reawakening after a charismatic young couple arrives at their small, liberal arts college. Author Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin) praises this debut about power, female agency and domestic apathy as “droll, dry, and pacy.” (Feb. 1)


3Mrs. Death Misses Deathby Salena Godden

It comes from a place of grieving,” is how Godden, a British poet of Jamaican-Irish heritage, explains the genesis of her buzzy debut. “I was mourning, in a very dark place and looking for the light.” In this original concept, which mixes poetry, prose and even non-fiction, death is personified as an elderly, working-class Black woman who takes various forms. Mrs. Death is so exhausted by the senseless dying around her that she unburdens herself by dictating stories about her work to a young poet. Actor Idris Elba was such an enthusiastic fan when the novel was published in England last spring that his production company acquired the film and television rights. (Feb. 1)


4The Family Chaoby Lan Samantha Chang

This tragicomedy, written by the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, explores the Chinese diaspora and issues of long-term assimilation into mainstream culture over the course of three decades of a Chinese-American clan in the American Midwest. The intrigue concerns three brothers – and their family-owned restaurant – who uncover stern truths after their despotic patriarch turns up dead. While it might seem an unlikely comparison, navigating the legacy they inherit is worthy of the hit HBO show, Succession. (Feb. 1)


5The Matchmaker: A Spy in Berlinby Paul Vidich

In the months leading up to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, an American translator reconstructs her seemingly happy marriage as the authorities question her. Was she just an easy mark, duped by the East German secret police into marrying a man who may be a Stasi spy? Vidich conjures the minutiae of this momentous historical event – the protests and tense days before officials re-opened the border – in this Cold War espionage drama thats also a tantalizing domestic noir. (Feb. 1)


6Cleopatra and Frankensteinby Coco Mellors

This is the debut novel from a 32-year-old British expat and current literary It girl who has been likened to Sally Rooney and Ottessa Moshfegh (the moody cover art alone signals it’s millennial fiction catnip). It dissects the intense chemistry of an impulsive marriage between young, bohemian, English artist Cleo, and Frank, an older self-made advertising executive. The relationship’s impact on those around them plays out against a backdrop of New York’s social swirl. (Feb. 8)


7Black Cakeby Charmaine Wilkerson

This hotly anticipated debut from an Italy-based former journalist unites Benny and Byron in the wake of their mother Eleanor’s death. Anticipating they will grant her final wish to reconcile – and share the traditional Caribbean black cake shes left in the freezer for when the time is right” – Eleanor has recorded the true story of her life. The estranged brother and sister are shocked to learn their mother, who grew up on an unnamed Caribbean island in the 60s, was the daughter of a Chinese man and a Black woman, for example, among other revelations about her life before she settled in California. As the novel alternates timelines and points of view, the black cake becomes a potent symbol of community and belonging. (Feb. 1)


8The Book of the Most Precious Substanceby Sara Gran

The acclaimed U.S. novelist and screenwriter (Come Closer and Dope) launches her new independent press, Dreamland Books, with this erotic thriller. Both endeavours are, in part, inspired by the current dearth of books that feature cool, middle-aged women, like Susanna Moore’s 1995 novel, In the Cut. The story is about a powerful, antique manual about “sex magic” that alters the life of a down-on-her-luck rare books dealer as she tracks it around the world and into the sexual demi-monde. (Feb. 8)


9The Wind Whistling in the Cranesby Lídia Jorge, trans. by Margaret Jull Costa and Annie McDermott

This prolific author’s acclaimed 2002 novel is set in the decade following the Portuguese Colonial War (1974) and explores both social issues and personal drama. As a young woman investigates unexplained events surrounding her grandmother’s death, the page-turning saga focuses on the friction between the Leandro family and their working-class tenants, the Matas – a family of immigrants from Cape Verde – who live in a coastal Algarve town. Comparisons to the Neapolitan novels of Elena Ferrante are inevitable. (Feb. 8)


10The Lady in the Silver Cloudby David Handler

This latest installment in the cozy series by the Edgar-winning author is just the thing to read while waiting for the next season of Only Murders in the Building. Amateur sleuth Stewart Hoag, a ghostwriter, is temporarily living in an upscale apartment complex on Central Park West and simply can’t resist investigating the murder of his wealthy neighbour, an elderly widow. One by one, he discovers the resident socialites, tycoons and eccentrics are keeping secrets, and all fall under suspicion before the satisfying resolution. (Feb. 15)


11The Swimmersby Julie Otsuka

What begins as a social satire about swim obsessives takes a turn for the poignant in this mesmerizing novel of grief and loss. When the local pool closes for repairs, it’s just bad luck for most devoted recreational lap swimmers, but it has larger consequences for Alice. The retired label technician is in the early stages of dementia, and the disruption to her daily routine not only takes away her solace, it contributes to her cognitive decline. As her Japanese-American daughter prepares to move her mother into a nursing home and learns more about her internment camp experience, a lyrical story unfolds about fading memories and remembrances. It vividly renders both the mother-daughter relationship and the communal consequences of Alzheimer’s disease. (Feb. 22)


12The Secret Love Letters of Olivia Morettiby Jennifer Probst

This is a book for pure escapism – and, okay, a bit of realism to anchor the uplift. When their mother dies, three sisters are surprised to find they’ve inherited a cottage on the Amalfi Coast. There’s also a stash of love letters from a mysterious man known only as “R,” who promised to meet her there on her 65th birthday. Naturally, the trio travel to Positano to unearth their mother’s mysterious romantic past, and try to resolve both long-simmering sibling tensions and their own various states of unhappiness. (Feb. 22)


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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