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Ten Great Books set in Ottawa
20th March 2021
Ottawa is the latest location for us to visit in our Great Books series. Ten Great Books set in Ottawa. Ottawa is Canada’s capital, in the east of southern Ontario, near the city of Montréal and the U.S. border. Sitting on the Ottawa River, it has at its centre Parliament Hill, with grand Victorian architecture and museums such as the National Gallery of Canada, with noted collections of indigenous and other Canadian art.
‘Ottawa – a sub-arctic lumber-village converted by royal mandate into a political cockpit’
Garbo Laughs by Elizabeth Hay
Inflamed by the movies she was deprived of as a child, Harriet Browning forms a Friday-night movie club with three companions-of-the-screen: a boy who loves Frank Sinatra, a girl with Bette Davis eyes, and an earthy sidekick named after Dinah Shore.
Into this idiosyncratic world, in time with the devastating ice storm of 1998, come two refugees from Hollywood: Harriet’s Aunt Leah, the jaded widow of a screenwriter blacklisted in the 1950s, and her sardonic, often overbearing stepson, Jack. They bring harsh reality and illuminate the pull of family and friendship, the sting of infidelity and revenge, the shock of illness and sudden loss.
Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz
Beena and Sadhana are sisters who share a bond that could only have been shaped by the most unusual of childhoods — and by shared tragedy. Orphaned as teenagers, they have grown up under the exasperated watch of their Sikh uncle, who runs a bagel shop in Montreal’s Hasidic community of Mile End. Together, they try to make sense of the rich, confusing brew of values, rituals, and beliefs that form their inheritance. Yet as they grow towards adulthood, their paths begin to diverge. Beena catches the attention of one of the “bagel boys” and finds herself pregnant at sixteen, while Sadhana drives herself to perfectionism and anorexia.
When we first meet the adult Beena, she is grappling with a fresh grief: Sadhana has died suddenly and strangely, her body lying undiscovered for a week before anyone realizes what has happened. Beena is left with a burden of guilt and an unsettled feeling about the circumstances of her sister’s death, which she sets about to uncover. Her search stirs memories and opens wounds, threatening to undo the safe, orderly existence she has painstakingly created for herself and her son.
Heralded across Canada for the power and promise of her debut collection, Mother Superior, Nawaz proves with Bone and Breadthat she is one of our most talented and unique storytellers.
Cold Mourning by Brenda Chapman
When murder stalks a family over Christmas, Kala Stonechild trusts her intuition to get results.
It’s a week before Christmas when wealthy businessman Tom Underwood disappears into thin air — with more than enough people wanting him dead.
New police recruit Kala Stonechild, who has left her northern Ontario detachment to join a specialized Ottawa crime unit, is tasked with returning Underwood home in time for the holidays. Stonechild, who is from a First Nations reserve, is a lone wolf who is used to surviving on her wits. Her new boss, Detective Jacques Rouleau, has his hands full controlling her, his team, and an investigation that keeps threatening to go off track.
Old betrayals and complicated family relationships brutally collide when love turns to hate and murder stalks a family.
Daddy, Daddy and Me by Sean Michael
When Jeff agreed to be the sperm donor to his best friend Beth, he never expected a tragedy to leave his newborn and three year old motherless. That’s exactly what’s happened, though, and it’s totally thrown his life into chaos: his lover has left him, his house isn’t anywhere near childproof and his boss feels the restaurant has been patient enough with the time off.
Donny has always known he wanted to be in childcare, and he just finished his degree in early childhood education. He didn’t count on people being less than thrilled to hire him when they find out that not only is he a male nanny, but a gay one at that. Job hunting has been frustrating to say the least, so when he knocks on Jeff’s door and is greeted by the sounds of things breaking and a pair of screaming children, he thinks, just maybe, he can begin this particular interview with a trial by fire.
Becoming the nanny to Jeff’s children just might be a dream come true for Danny, and exactly what Jeff needs, but are either one of them ready to really be a family?
Fall by Colin McAdam
Award-winning author Colin McAdam’s second novel takes place at St. Ebury, an elite Ottawa boarding school. It’s a place of privilege and hollow rules, of newly minted “traditions” and the barely restrained animal instincts of the boys. A handful of girls are also in attendance, among them Fall, a beautiful and elusive figure who becomes the object of fascination for many of the male students, including Noel, a smart, intensely idiosyncratic young man. But Fall ends up dating his roommate Julius, the charismatic son of the American ambassador, whom Noel also fixates upon. Amidst a heady mix of hormones and delusional impulses, Noel gradually loses control of his obsessions.
Told from the very different perspectives of Julius and Noel, Fall is a psychologically acute and relentless literary thriller of the first order.
In High Places by Arthur Hailey
As events bubbles to a scalding boil, leaders of two great nations fought in desperate secrecy to keep the lid on the world. Bartering, backstabbing, browbeating, bribing…and praying for a little more weight to throw on the delicate balance of international power. This is a novel of men at the summit, their bold deals and soiled souls — and their women, clutching at fevered moments as the time for loving, the time for living, slipped so quickly away.
Learning to Swim by Sara J Henry
When she witnesses a small child tumbling from a ferry into Lake Champlain, Troy Chance dives in without thinking. Harrowing moments later, she bobs to the surface, pulling a terrified little boy with her. As the ferry disappears into the distance, she begins a bone-chilling swim nearly a mile to shore with a tiny passenger on her back.
Surprisingly, he speaks only French. He’ll acknowledge that his name is Paul; otherwise, he’s resolutely mute.
Troy assumes that Paul’s frantic parents will be in touch with the police or the press. But what follows is a shocking and deafening silence. And Troy, a freelance writer, finds herself as fiercely determined to protect Paul as she is to find out what happened to him. What she uncovers will take her into a world of wealth and privilege and heedless self-indulgence—a world in which the murder of a child is not unthinkable. She’ll need skill and courage to survive and protect her charge and herself.
Sara J. Henry’s powerful and compelling Learning to Swim will move and disturb readers right up to its shattering conclusion.
The Poisoned Pawn by Peggy Blair
Detective Mike Ellis returns home after he is cleared in the death of a young boy while on vacation in Cuba, only to discover that his estranged wife, Hilary, is dead, and that he’s the main suspect. Meanwhile, Inspector Ramírez, head of the Havana Major Crimes Unit, is dispatched to Ottawa to take custody of a Cuban priest apprehended by authorities while in possession of a laptop full of child pornography. Ramírez will uncover a web of deceit and depravity that extends from the corridors of power in Ottawa to the hallowed halls of the Vatican—and back again.
Uncle Ronald by Breena Clarke
Old Mickey is one hundred and twelve years old. He can’t remember what he ate for lunch today, but he can remember every detail of what happened one hundred years ago, when he and his mother ran away from his violent father to take refuge in the hills north of Ottawa.
Lost Ottawa Book One by David McGee
Remember the Chickulator at the Science and Tech Museum? What about the Britannia Drive-In? The Green Valley Restaurant? The malted milks once sold in the basement of Freiman’s Department Store? If you answered Yes to any of these questions, Lost Ottawa is a book you’ll treasure. This is the unwritten history of the Nation’s Capital and a loving tribute to the power and beauty of everyday life.
Enjoy your literary trip to Ottawa – and let us know in the Comments below if there are any books you would add!
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