Off the Page

A blog on Canadian writing, reading, and everything in between

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Shelf Talkers: Spring 2021

Shelf Talkers: Spring 2021

By Robert J. Wiersema

One of the best pieces of news in an otherwise dark year was the word that, despite the growth of online giants during t …

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Book Cover The Shadow Life

My Drifter Reading List

By Jen Sookfong Lee

A poetry list by the author of new book The Shadow List.

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Book Cover Fuse

Persian-Canadian Writers You've Got to Read

By Hollay Ghadery

So, where were all the Persian Canadian writers? It turns out, here all along, but not as represented as one might hope; …

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Tough Like Mum: An Essential Picture Book for Kids *and* Adults

Tough Like Mum: An Essential Picture Book for Kids *and* Adults

By Geoffrey Ruggero

Picture books are often written with young children as their intended audience. In Tough Like Mum, Lana Button provides …

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Book Cover We Jane

Aimee Wall on The Great Canadian Abortion Novel

By Kerry Clare

"I didn’t want the plot to turn on an abortion or the decision to have one. Any conflict or tension is rooted elsewher …

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Book Cover Because the Sun

Poetry That's Going to Grab You

By 49thShelf Staff

Great books to read before for National Poetry Month is out.

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The Chat with Christopher DiRaddo

The Chat with Christopher DiRaddo

By Trevor Corkum

Christopher DiRaddo’s sophomore novel, The Family Way, is a dynamic and rich exploration of queer family, parenthood, …

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Book Cover No More Plastic

Fighting for the Planet: Inspiring Books for Earth Day

By Kerry Clare

An eclectic list of inspiring books about fighting to protect the planet.

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Book Cover Hour of the Crab

Other Beings, Other Minds

By Patricia Robertson

A recommended reading list by author of the new book Hour of the Crab.

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Book Cover WANTED! Criminals of the Animal Kingdom

Notes from a Children's Librarian: Life Sciences

By Julie Booker

Celebrate Earth Day with these fun and inspiring picture books.

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Amanda Leduc on Voyages and Hidden Magic

Book Cover The Miracles of Ordinary Men

A guest post by the author of new novel The Miracles of Ordinary Men.

Confession: for most of my twenties, I wasn’t that much of an Atwood fan. Or, really, of Mordecai Richler. Or Rohinton Mistry. Or Michael Ondaatje. Nor was I, truth be told, all that much in love with Alice Munro, perfect storyteller though she might be. In my late teens and early twenties, I was all about the international read—I wanted books that were about far away. Books that would teach me about the Literature of the World. (Or something. It sounds silly now. It made perfect sense back then.) Books that would open me. Books that would make the world feel so much bigger than my tiny little one-intersection hometown.

Or so I told myself. What I really wanted, I think now, were books that would tell me about magic. Books like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, or The Time Traveller’s Wife, or The God of Small Things—different magical books all, and none of them Canadian, but books that I loved so much I took them to the UK and back, multiple times, and who cared about that extra weight in the suitcase. Books like The Night Circus, which I discovered only last year, peeling open its pages with the wonderful thrill of the booklover: oh yes. You. I’ve been waiting forever for you.

I felt th …

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Melissa Barbeau: Where Magic Meets Science

The Luminous Sea, by Melissa Barbeau, manages to be gorgeous right down to sentence level, with incredible, evocative descriptions, and yet also be fast-paced and plot-driven, so difficult to put down. Like the creature whose wondrous existence lies at the centre of the story, The Luminous Sea is not quite like anything else you've seen/read before, and it's also absolutely enthralling. Read on to find out more about it, and also for Barbeau's recommendations of other books where magic and science meet. 


The Luminous Sea imagines an outport Newfoundland that is almost—but not quite—recognizable. The fishing village of Damson Bay abuts an ocean that is degrees warmer than it has been historically and the sea has turned strange. Phenomena normally found in warmer climates emerge along the North Atlantic coast. Bioluminescent tides emit their eerie light along the shoreline, fantastic creatures are brought to the surface.

The Luminous Sea imagines the discovery of a fairy tale creature in a scientific world where unique genetic code is considered treasure. The book asks whether magic and science can exist in the same space, and if there is any space left for wonder in a world that rushes to claim ownership of every new thing.

Told from the points of view of th …

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8 Books for Fans of Fabulism

The books I’ve always loved the most are those that are grounded in the real world with fantastical elements—stories that hold space for the more ineffable experiences in life. My debut novel, The Memory Collectors, falls into this category, landing somewhere between contemporary fantasy and literary fiction. Below are some books in that same vein by other great Canadian authors. Each of these is either a favorite of mine or a new release at the top of my reading list. If you crave stories that play with our understanding of reality, that incorporate myth and folklore into everyday existence, or that make you feel as though magic might just be real, these are absolutely worth checking out.


Empire of Wild, by Cherie Dimaline

From the author of the incredibly powerful book The Marrow Thieves, this is a modern supernatural thriller that plays with traditional Métis stories of the werewolf-like Rogarou. A beautifully written page-turner, it follows the struggles of Joan as she discovers her missing husband at a revival tent in a Walmart parking l …

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Quick Hits: Strange and Otherworldly

In Quick Hits, we look through our stacks to bring you books that, when they were published, elicited a lot of reaction and praise. Our selections will include books published this year, last year, or any year. They will be from any genre. The best books are timeless, and they deserve to find readers whenever and wherever.



The Fionavar Tapestry Omnibus, by Guy Gavriel Kay

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: HarperCollins

In the three novels that make up the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road), five University of Toronto students find themselves transported to a magical land to do battle with the forces of evil. At a Celtic conference, Kimberley, Kevin, Jennifer, Dave, and Paul meet wizard Loren Silvercloak. Returning with him to the magical kingdom of Fionavar to attend a festival, they soon discover that they are being drawn into the conflict between the dark and the light as Unraveller Rakoth Maugrim breaks free of his mountain prison and threatens the continued existence of Fionavar. They join mages, elves, dwarves, and the forces of the High King of Brennin to do battle with Maugrim, where Kay's imaginative powers as a world-builder come to the fore. He stunningly weaves Arthurian legends into the fluid mix of Celtic, …

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Books with a Touch of Magic Realism: A List by Barry Webster

Cat’s Pilgrimage by Marilyn Bowering: In this labyrinthine novel, Bowering deftly mixes divergent elements including mythology, psychological realism, and fantasy. The effect is startling but never jarring. The pilgrimage of a teenaged girl who witnessed the drowning of a classmate takes her from Vancouver Island to a commune in England, all overlaid with the tale of the lost stones from Lucifer’s necklace. Mesmerizing. 

Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen: Some years ago I witnessed a panel discussion where the topic was “Canadian Fiction: Quiet Literature for a Quiet Country.” In Cohen’s classic novel, he blows this stereotype to smithereens. The high octane-charged tale about the love affair between a scholar and the ghost of Sainte Catherine Tekakwitha is written at a fever pitch that many writers would have trouble maintaining for 260 pages. The voice never sags but roars exuberantly from the book’s beginning to its end.

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