It seems somehow strange to think that we can resent an entire year. However, 2020 has been a year like no other, and I suspect most of us are going to be giving a cheer when it's behind us.
But let’s not throw out the good with the bad, shall we? There have been bright spots, among which is a surplus of amazing books. A plethora, in fact.
To mark the passing of the year, we’ve gathered the independent booksellers of the Shelf Talkers fellowship – the strong! The proud! The bookish! – to tell us about some of their favourite reads. And hey—click on their links to order right from them!
Finally, a toast for the passing of the year: to books, and to finding light in the darkness.
See you next year.
The Bookseller: Mitzi M. Stone, Mulberry Bush Book Store (Parksville, BC)
The Pick: Crow, by Amy Spurway
Set in Cape Breton and filled with characters who charm and dismay you, this is a book that knocks you to the ground, then lifts you right back up again! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Humour, dysfunctional families, and brain tumours, this book has it all! All I can say is: read it!
The Bookseller: Liz Greenaway, Audreys Books (Edmonton, AB)
The Picks: All the Devils Are Here, by Louise Penny
Louise Penny's All the Devils Are Here is set in Paris, as anticipated, and revolves around Armand Gamache's godfather, Stephen. With the new setting comes a new background—the beauty of Paris—as well as yet another tight story by Penny involving a crime, family dynamics in crisis, backstories and hidden motivations. I think it's one of her best yet—it certainly kept me reading late into the night.
The Bookseller: James P. Schmidt, Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)
The Pick: Indians on Vacation, by Thomas King
King is well known for exploring critical and difficult issues with insight and humour in both his fiction and nonfiction. Indians on Vacation continues that approach, blending the humorous travel experiences of Bird and Mimi’s first visit to Europe with reflections on the European appropriation of the treasures of Indigenous and other non-European peoples as Bird and Mimi seek out the fate of a traditional medicine bundle brought to Europe by his long-lost uncle. Both King fans and first-time King readers will be well pleased with this latest book.
The Bookseller: Colin Holt, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)
The Pick: Oh She Glows For Dinner, by Angela Liddon
Angela Liddon is back with a new book of mouth-watering plant-based meals. From salad to stews to mains, and packed with beautiful inspiring photos, Oh She Glows For Dinner would make a fantastic gift for any home chef and perfect addition to the kitchen bookshelf.
The Bookseller: Christie Shaw Roome, Salt Spring Books (Salt Spring Island, BC)
Facing the Sun, by Janice Lynn Mater
A coming-of-age novel set in the Bahamas, Facing the Sun is the story of four teens—Eve, Faith, KeeKee and Nia—and what happens in their lives and friendships when a developer comes to their community to turn their beloved beach into a resort. This novel delves into the complicated lives of the four young women and elucidates the saving grace of friendship while also revealing the very real and often negative impact of the tourist sector.
From the author of A Girl Like That comes a fantasy set in a medieval India-inspired world. Fuelled with bold women warriors and influenced by Indian and Persian mythology, this book is part adventure, part magic and part love story. Turn on your reading lamp; you might not want to put this one down at bedtime.
The Bookseller: Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)
The Pick: Aubrey McKee, by Alex Pugsley
I loved this very Canadian, but at the same time universal, quirky, funny John Irving-esque coming of age, set in Halifax. And what a Halifax portrayed—itself a character! Three thumbs up.
The Bookseller: Ryan Hayward, Audreys Books (Edmonton, AB)
The Pick: The Finder, by Will Ferguson
Like the author himself, The Finder is a bit hard to categorize as just one thing.
Is it a story of finding treasure—what is treasure anyway?—or a travel adventure, or a thriller? And so many characters... who am I supposed to identify with? I never did answer all those questions, but half-way through I was engrossed in a page-turner, wondering where I would end up. Highly recommended.
The Bookseller: Hilary Atleo, Iron Dog Books (Tsleil-Waututh, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Musqueam territories—Vancouver, BC)
Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
One of our absolute favourite reads this year. In a season crowded with standout novels from both emerging authors and established pillars of CanLit, Noopiming stands out as something truly inspired and unusual. Not so much genre-defying as genre-defining, Simpson's book extends and reinforces the power of Indigenous literature as a decolonial act.
Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer, by Gillian Goerz
Gillian Goerz recasts Sherlock and Watson as Shirley and Jamila, two ten-year-old girls in Toronto who form a friendship despite their misgivings about one another. As they explore their neighbourhood they quickly discover mysteries and have to work together to gather evidence and solve the (kid-sized) crimes. Featuring a Pakistani-Canadian protagonist and artwork that brings the Toronto setting home, this book saved our summer and is the perfect start to a new graphic novel series.
The Bookseller: Gaia Chernushenko, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)
The Pick: Greenwood, by Michael Christie
Greenwood paints a stark, painfully realistic future devastated by ecological destruction. Old-growth forests have become a rare marvel that only the wealthy few can afford to visit. From here, the story plunges backwards to retrace four generations of a family that is deeply connected to trees. This book is filled with warnings, longing, a search for belonging, and the heart-wrenching love we, as humans, feel towards nature.
The Bookseller: Jan Lindh, Mulberry Bush Book Store (Parksville, BC)
Forever Terry: A Legacy in Letters, edited by Darrell Fox
This is a tribute to Terry Fox by Canadians both famous and not that reveals just how astounding this humble young man really was. He helped us change the conversation about cancer, and continues to bring hope with his story and his example. All proceeds are being donated to the Terry Fox Foundation.
The Finder, by Will Ferguson
An intrepid Interpol agent, a burnt-out travel writer, a celebrated war photographer and an international thief populate this fun, character—driven, sometimes dark, yet hard to easily categorize story of some of the world’s most famous missing objects and the lengths people will go to find them.
The Company We Keep, by Frances Itani
A woman starts a group where ordinary people meet to talk about grief. But this book is far from depressing. It’s about loss and love and anger but it’s also community and hope and resilience. One of the most life-affirming books I’ve read this year.
The Bookseller: Lee Trentadue, Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)
The Pick: All the Devils Are Here, by Louise Penny
I had not read the last few of Louise Penny’s mystery/detective novels, and loved what she does with this one. She takes Chief Inspector Gamache and his family from their normal setting in Quebec to Paris, so we get to do some armchair travelling! Such a great novel to take our minds off of this pandemic, and the US election. Such a fun read! And this one will make an excellent gift for fans or for anyone who loves a good mystery!
The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, Hunter Street Books (Peterborough, ON)
The Pick: Through the Garden: A Love Story (with Cats), by Lorna Crozier
Crozier employs her poetry and the lives of her beloved cats and images of her beautiful garden in order to reveal her decades-long love story with the poet Patrick Lane. His illness and death closes the story of their life together, but Crozier shows that through memory, images, words, the natural world and their personal history, life is never fully gone. This is a gut-punching memoir that is both lively and still. It will make you cry, but it will also make you grateful for love.
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