It’s getting colder and the days are getting shorter. We all need an extra dose of inspiration to keep us going throughout the winter season; to help us through the Dark Days until the renewal of spring arrives. Here are five books to help you get past the winter blues.

The Toll Bridge Gate by Maria Miranda Gomez: When the toll bridge gate of a small New England town breaks down, the entire town is forced to use the old covered bridge that only admits one car at a time. The inconvenience forces the population to cooperate in a way that they have not done in over 40 years, ever since an election over whether the municipal bylaws should allow houses to be painted in non-traditional colours caused a rift in the town. A beautiful tale about tradition, progress, and compromise.

A Practical Guide to Quilting in Connecticut by Jeff deHunte: Sheila has not left her home in over ten years due to her embarrassing bromhidrosis.  When a sink hole engulfs the house next door, Sheila is forced to move to a hotel where she must overcome her own fears of body odour and learn to love herself. deHunte’s modern classic about self-acceptance and the benefits of natural fibres is a must-read for anyone battling their inner polyester demons.

Schnell! by Gertrude LaTerre: Anyone who has not read and fallen in love with the story of Moses Rodriguez, the slowest man in town, has let life pass them by! A book about how taking it slow is the fastest way to get anywhere.

Forgetting Felicia by Roger Thibault: Never has there been a more touching story about loving the life you’re in. Melissa learns to stop living within the fantasy of Paul St. John Darcy’s classic novel, Felicia Dovercourt, and start embracing her life as the manager of a Bed, Bath, and Beyond in Rhode Island, finding contentment, fulfillment, and love amongst the 300 thread count sheets.

Dry Oregano, Fresh Basil by Noel Michael Smith: “If my kitchen could talk, it would speak German. This is why I need to move,” so says Cheval, the foodie protagonist of this bright, cheerful novel by the award-winning author of Kitten Socks. Cheval’s hunt for the perfect kitchen turns into a hunt for the self as he finds fault and beauty in finishings and fixtures.

Last week I received an advanced copy of Tad Schwinn’s latest novel, The Headbanger’s Pocket Molière. He has granted exclusive permission to this blog to post an excerpt of the first chapter of the book.

The Flats’s winter landscape was like a scraped brown beach left alone in the off-season. A lone bandana fluttered in the distance. A Motörhead T-shirt hung off the side of an abandoned pickup. The winter sun beat down on the scene like a faded, dying spotlight in a down-on-its luck show bar in a bad neighbourhood.

Sean’s hair wasn’t yet greying, but his beard had a worn salt-and-pepper look that gave the impression of being splattered with white paint. He knew, intellectually, instinctively, that the white jean shirts unbuttoned halfway down his chest were dating him, ageing him, making him look like a relic to the twentysomething young things who visited his shop. They came round, in their short short cutoff jeans and Aerosmith T-shirts borrowed from their mothers who never told them that they had personally watched someone give Steven Tyler a blow job backstage, hoping to find an album they could brag about to their friends: Sticky Fingers; Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars; Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

He didn’t like to think of himself as aging or out-of-touch, but he was the only guy in the bar who’d drink Budweiser unironically. He didn’t get half the bands that now played The Flats. Bands that played new-wave inspired cover versions of Silver Machine on old Casiotones. Bands whose bios described their sound as “metaphysical lyrics scrawled on old-fashioned smooth chocolate-milk acoustic beats shattered by the intensity of the musical landscape, leaving behind a lush meadow of grass-fresh sounds.”

On Tuesday night, he locked up his kiosk and headed straight home. He had no desire to talk to any of the other merchants on the strip. All he wanted to do was have a Bud, watch Roadhouse, and pass out on his Lazyboy. When he got home, though, he found Barry sitting on his steps. Barry had broken up with Sheryl and needed a place to crash. Now Sean would have to listen to Barry whine all night, and then Barry would probably end up asleep on the Lazyboy while Roadhouse played off the old VCR.

The Sex Lives of Cannabis Users by P. Jay Roost

Review by Harding Wentworth

Meet Murray, Elsie, and Jazmyne on Vanatutu Island, a nudist colony, in the Fijian islands. They’re three inhabitants (of twenty-eight) living in a rundown commune, which was the former reality TV set of Tropical Wife Swap. Except these three were also former reality-show cast members who never went home after the cameras stopped rolling.

The structure and text of The Sex Lives of Cannabis Users is avant-garde. If James Joyce wrote about nudists living on a reality TV set, this could have been one of Joyce’s great philosophical works.

P. Jay Roost masterfully sweeps the reader into a balmy setting of sea spray, sand, and sun, but soon one feels left out of the jokes. Perhaps the author’s intent is to make the reader feel like an outsider looking from across the reef at all that reefer. If this is the case, the book is pure genius.

One is never quite sure if the plot moves off the three hammocks belonging to Murray, Elsie and Jazmyne, or if the trio never move from their hammocks. Just as one is never sure if the ménage à trois consummates as the book never climaxes, in what is a truly daring break from standard form.

Moose Mortem, Eloise Sunning’s debut novel about the machinations within a cheese factory in the fictional northern town of Alban Quebec is a stunning exploration of the depths of human emotion.

In 1976, the Charlemoine Family Cheese Factory is shut down due to the presence of a dead moose in the main milk boiling vat. Detective Maurice Hervieux of the Suretee du Quebec leads the investigation to determine how the moose ended up in the vat, and whether it is a case of industrial sabotage. His relationship with Dr Paul Westinghouse, the Health Canada scientist sent to assist him, is tense, exposing a clash of cultures between science and religion, and between French and English. The two solitudes brought together by a dead moose.

Sunnings does an excellent job of not only providing a context for the upcoming victory of the Parti Quebecois, but also examining how small town life is disturbed by the introduction of foreign elements, even those from within their own country. It is at times derivative, feeling like a mash-up of Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. At other times it feels fresh in its exploration of motivations and distrust. When Hervieux meets with the local union leader, he suddenly finds himself receiving the same treatment as Westinghouse receives. He finds himself confused, lonely, and alienated. As his investigation probes further into the mystery of the dead moose, he finds himself more and more on the outside of a town he had called home his whole life, and finds more and more in common with Westinghouse. His association with Westinghouse, though, further exacerbates the situation. The arguments in the local tavern and in the hotel restaurants reflect the conflict within Quebec, and Canada at the time.

Sunnings, who is all of 24 years old, has crafted a thoughtful novel with more depth and understanding of the conflict between the two solitudes than many books – fiction and non-fiction – written by those several decades her senior.