Centennial News book reviewer Julie Kish is recommending these two recently released books by well-known Canadians for your holiday shopping list.

The Defector
A Novel by Chris Hadfield
Mulholland Books, October 2023

There are two recently released Canadian novels I highly recommend. You may pick them up for yourself and indulge in highly entertaining reading over the holidays, or you may give them as Christmas gifts.

The Defector, by Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield, is a spy thriller set in 1973, at the height of the Cold War when spies hid around every corner and everyone was obsessed with outer space. A Soviet pilot fakes a crash and defects with the country’s most advanced fighter jet, but is the defection authentic or is it a Trojan horse?

The story is rich with details taken from actual events, and the reader is left wondering when the truth ends and the fiction begins. The true events and the accuracy of the technical descriptions make the novel feel like non-fiction. Only an author with Chris Hadfield’s experience as a test pilot and an astronaut could describe sensations so authentically that the reader can experience what it’s like to fly faster than the speed of sound. It’s an exhilarating rush.

The Defector is a sequel to Hadfield’s 2021 best-selling novel, The Apollo Murders, but you don’t have to read his first novel to enjoy The Defector. Hadfield summarizes everything you need to know from the first book to jump confidently into the second installment. However, I suspect you’ll want to go back and read The Apollo Murders to experience more of this exhilarating story.

The Bittlemores
A Novel by Jann Arden
Random House Canada, November 2023

Canadian Jann Arden said she worked on her first novel, The Bittlemores, for 15 years, on and off. I’m not surprised it’s such a remarkable and unique novel. Is there anything

Jann Arden can’t do incredibly well? She’s an award-winning singer-songwriter, a musician, a comedian, an actor and an author of four memoirs.

The genre of this novel is ambiguous. There are talking cows reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web,and there is a horrible farmer who is so nasty he presents as a caricature of an evil villain. There is a fantastical component to the story, but there are also well-developed characters that are grounded in reality and completely relatable.

This is the story of a dysfunctional family living on a rundown farm. The cruel farmer, Mr. Bittlemore, and his horrible wife manage to raise two remarkably well-adjusted girls.

Margaret runs away at the age of 14 and doesn’t return. When the younger girl, Willa, reaches the age of 14, she also wants to leave, but she stays to protect the animals and decides to free herself from her brutal parents by exposing their shocking secrets.

There are uncomfortable scenes of cruelty towards animals and children, which could have pushed me to stop reading, but the compelling story and superb writing kept me turning the pages. The scenes are easier to push through because the writing style creates a sensation of being in a Grimm’s fairy tale with exaggerated heartlessness and a disconnection from reality.

Margaret and Willa are strong, resilient heroines who forge an alliance with the animals and are responsible for giving this fairy tale a very happy and satisfying ending.