Must-Have New Brunswick Books of 2020
Of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, New Brunswick’s population sits near the middle at #8, just behind Nova Scotia and ahead of PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador. Despite its small population (well under 800,000), there is a wealth of good books being written by authors based in New Brunswick, books about the “picture province,” and books published here.
The books in this “Must-Have New Brunswick Books of 2020” list cover all ages and tastes and will give you an idea of the diversity of voices – both young and old – that emanate from here. This list includes fiction for young readers as well as mature ones, and non-fiction titles concerning New Brunswick, and its history, people and geography.
When the Hill Came Down by Susan White
When the Hill Came Down is a book suitable for mature teen readers on up. It is set in the Kingston Peninsula and goes back and forth in time to tell the story of Keefe Williams, who was orphaned as a young child when his house was destroyed in a mudslide, killing both his parents.
He was then raised by an unloving uncle and aunt, which left him emotionally scarred and a target of school bullies. In high school, he meets Summer Barkley, a newcomer to the peninsula. They form a strong relationship. It is Summer who wants to reconcile Keefe’s past to his present, so it is her that tells Keefe’s story.
New Brunswick author Susan White writes well-constructed stories. When the Hill Came Down is no exception. Her storytelling has a natural seriousness about it, very grounded, with characters that could well be drawn from real life.
The situations that the protagonists (and antagonists) encounter are full of life lessons, making her stories trustworthy and wholesome. I highly recommend her books.
Death Between the Walls: An Old Manse Mystery by Alexa Bowie
Alexa Bowie is actually a nom de plume of Miramichi author Chuck Bowie, and this is the first in a series of “cozy mysteries” that she intends to write.
The “Old Manse Mystery Series” is set in a town (not unlike Newcastle) where Emma Andrews finds herself in possession of the aforementioned “Old Manse,” which was her family’s home until recently. After a body is found within its walls during a renovation, Emma is drawn into a web of mystery, romance and old secrets. Ideal reading for a winter’s night!
Winter Road by Wayne Curtis
Speaking of winter, the new collection of short stories by Wayne Curtis (another Miramichier) is a continuation of his 2017 collection, Homecoming: The Road Less Travelled. This is classic Wayne Curtis, with reminiscences of glory days gone by, a world that has changed, growing older but not necessarily all that much wiser.
These stories are written by a man who grew up in rural New Brunswick, left for a time, but always returned to the place his heart was.
Fixing Broken Things by Gregory M Cook
While reading Fixing Broken Things I kept glancing over my shoulder, wondering if the author was there, describing precisely what I was experiencing. Tableside books replaced a wintertime puzzle, the change in season curbing my appetite for dark weather pastimes. Rarely have I had such a jarring sense of connection with an author I didn’t think I knew.
Now I believe I was mistaken, in fact having had an intimate series of shares with a friend. A friend I simply haven’t yet met. Perfect for fans of the short story genre.
The Hush Sisters by Gerard Collins
Getting lost in a book is always a joy, but falling into The Hush Sisters was a truly wonderful escape in a year like 2020.
The fluctuating tension and love between Sissy and Ava Hush gives a real-world grounding to the eerie memories of their childhood and the unnerving presences lingering in their home. With each new ghost, creepy space and heated argument, I became more invested in the dark drama.
What did Ava want Sissy to know? What happened between Sissy and her husband? From where (or is it whom) did the house get its aura? The Hush Sisters snagged me early on and had me gripped until the final pages.
Young Readers/Young Adult
Journey to the Hopewell Star by Hannah D State
In the near-to-middle future where Journey to the Hopewell Star takes place, interplanetary space travel exists. So does the realization that there are other inhabitants of the universe, such as the Krygians. They have been monitoring Earth for some time, but are becoming increasingly concerned about environmental injustices that continue to eradicate species at an alarming rate.
Journey to the Hopewell Star is written by New Brunswick author Hannah D State and is an excellent middle-grade reader that is full of adventure, time travel and environmental issues that are occurring in New Brunswick as well as on the planet of Kryg. It is well-written, and even this mature reader enjoyed it.
You Were Never Here by Kathleen Peacock
New Brunswick author Kathleen Peacock has written one of the most talked-about books of 2020; having made the Globe & Mail’s Top 100 Books of 2020 in the Young Adult category.
Don’t let the categorization of this novel fool you though. This mature adult reader thoroughly enjoyed it.
Peacock herself describes writing You Were Never Here: “I started feeling like I was writing some strange love letter to all those New Brunswick summers I spent reading Stephen King books as a teen.”
A five-star read for any age!
Restigouche: The Long Run of the Wild River by Philip Lee
In Restigouche, Philip Lee takes us along this mighty river, each bend and turn akin to life. The Restigouche River flows through the remote border region of Quebec and New Brunswick, its magically transparent waters, soaring forest hillsides and population of Atlantic salmon creating one of the most storied wild spaces on the continent.
Learning this land’s history remains invaluable. This is present day exploration, research and experience we need now more than ever. And naturally, for the good of our environment. This book is an enlightenment, a flow of storytelling and insight through topography, literally, by way of a river called Restigouche.
The Fiddlehead Moment by Tony Tremblay
This book provides a much-needed history of literary modernism in New Brunswick. Tremblay’s text is well researched and clearly written. I enjoyed its tone—at once academic and conversational.
Alongside its geography, New Brunswick’s social, cultural and political histories are outlined as influential to a unique wave of writing and cultural criticism in Canada. The vision and hard work of key thinkers, like AG Bailey, Desmond Pacey and Fred Cogswell, are celebrated, and the establishment of the Fiddlehead School is underscored as key to securing New Brunswick’s place in national and international cultural spheres.
I love learning new things about New Brunswick, and The Fiddlehead Moment offered wonderful insight into the role of local critics and poets in shaping an innovative and non-urban modernism in Canada.
The Miramichi Fire: A History by Alan MacEachern
I love history, and I enjoy it all the more when an authoritative author such as MacEachern (who is a professor at the University of Western Ontario) takes a deep dive into a subject regarding which there is a dearth of material.
The Miramichi Fire of 1825 is just such a subject. It is one of the largest fires in North American history, yet it has been all but forgotten. MacEachern manages to collate all available references from both sides of the Atlantic and, by applying his knowledge of environmental history, manages to create an extremely readable and engaging text on this little-known part of Canadian history.
--James M Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. Started in 2015, The Miramichi Reader strives to promote good Canadian books, poets and authors, as well as small-press publishers, coast to coast to coast. James works and resides in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife and their dog.