Though no genre dominated the literary scene, there is one through-line in this year-end list. Almost all of these books evoke their settings - Toronto, Montreal, WWII London - in powerful ways.
Girls Fall Down author Maggie Helwig
1 GIRLS FALL DOWN by Maggie Helwig (Coach House)
Toronto stars in this timely story of a young, not so lovable photographer obsessed with an ex-girlfriend and slowly going blind in a city where people keep collapsing from a mysterious ailment. How could the literary juries miss this?
2 ATMOSPHERIC DISTURBANCES by Rivka Galchen (HarperCollins)
What's real? Who's who? Can we believe anything? Hard to say in this story of psychotherapist Leo, who thinks his wife has been replaced by a doppelgänger. Playful, disturbing, heartbreaking.
The Flying Troutmans author Miriam Toews
3 THE FLYING TROUTMANS by Miriam Toews (Knopf)
In this Writers' Trust Award-winning novel, a very unusual family hits the road to find Dad in a rollicking story tinged with sadness - Mum's back home, having bottomed out into a deep depression. The brilliant teen characters are like nothing you've ever read.
Valmiki's Daughter author Shani Mootoo
4 VALMIKI'S DAUGHTER by Shani Mootoo (Anansi)
Trinidad comes vividly to life in this absorbing tale of class, race and sexual struggle. Be patient with the beginning travelogue - the novel takes off as soon as Mootoo introduces her deeply conflicted characters.
5 ONE MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT by Michael Dobbs (Knopf)
In this chilling and brilliant work of non-fiction, the former diplomatic correspondent of the Washington Post captures the white-knuckle anxiety that gripped the White House and the Kremlin during the 13 dark days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
6 THE SEALED LETTER by Emma Donoghue (HarperCollins)
A 19th-century feminist has a crush on an old female friend who's using her in this delicious historical fiction based, as usual with Donoghue, on real-life characters.
Cockroach author Rawi Hage
7 COCKROACH by Rawi Hage (Anansi)
An alienated, poverty-stricken Lebanese immigrant trying to survive in Montreal cheats and steals his way under our skin. Part thriller, part case study, Cockroach made all the big prize short lists but won nothing. No surprise - the mainstream's not ready yet for a howl of rage like this.
8 GIRLS LIKE US by Sheila Weller (Atria)
Weller's triple bio of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon is as much about the times as it is about the women who defined them, making this a fascinating read for any pop culture vulture.
Coventry author Helen Humphreys
9 COVENTRY by Helen Humphreys (HarperCollins)
Humphreys deploys her immense craft with spellbinding results in this story about the Blitz in Coventry during the Second World War. Nobody conveys longing like Humphreys.
10 STUNT by Claudia Dey (Coach House)
Playwright Dey's first novel, about a nine-year-old abandoned by her dad to the rest of her dysfunctional family in lovingly detailed Parkdale, is a celebration of the bizarre and a triumph of literary invention.
best new trends
Novels accompanied by soundtracks
Multi-talented Daria Salamon released The Prairie Bridesmaid (Key Porter) and a related soundtrack (on the Smallman label) featuring Sarah Slean, Scott Nolan and others. Buy the book and get a code that lets you download the music for free. Brilliant idea - and think about how great the music at book launches could be if more writers pick up on it.
Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith (Vintage): smart variation on the myth of Iphis. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf): superb stories about middle-class Indian immigrants in America. The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson (Knopf): beautiful eco-themed sci-fi with a queer twist.
The Soul Of All Great Designs by Neil Bissoondath (Cormorant): invents something you could call reverse homophobia - a character pretends he's gay - without, obviously, knowing what he's talking about. Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden (Knopf): New Orleans-set story got more hype than it deserved.