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 lot, and then must make him remember who he is.
Satellite Love, by Genki Ferguson
It’s the late ‘90s and Anna, a lonely teenage girl living in a city in southern Japan, looks to the stars for escape from her life. Everything changes when she falls in love with a Low Orbit Satellite (LEO) passing overhead, and when that satellite comes down to Earth to learn more about her. The premise of this debut novel immediately intrigued me, and it was an additional delight to learn that Ferguson works at my neighborhood bookstore in Vancouver. If you like the work of Haruki Murakami, Satellite Love is for you.
Shadow Life, by Hiromi Goto; illustrated by Ann Xu
76-year-old Kumiko, a Japanese Canadian widow, is unhappy in the assisted living complex where her well-meaning daughters have placed her. She escapes and sets up in a secret bachelor pad, where she revels in life’s small pleasures—until Death’s shadow tracks her down, and Kumiko must fight for her life. It’s so refreshing to see an older woman’s perspective featured in a graphic novel. Shadow Life was released at the end of March and I’m excited to pick up a copy.
Becoming Leidah, by Michelle Grierson
Set in 19th century Norway, this novel tells the tale of a girl born blue-skinned with webbed hands and feet. As Leidah grows and her magical ancestry becomes more evident, her mother Maeva seeks to protect her from suspicious townsfolk, while a shapeshifter watches and waits in the shadows. A love story with mythological roots along the lines of Alice Hoffman, Yangsze Choo, or Neil Gaiman, Becoming Leidah is Grierson’s debut novel, and it hits bookstores on April 13.
Certain Dark Things, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
While her stories may be primarily set in her home country of Mexico, Moreno-Garcia lives and writes in Vancouver. She has published books in a variety of genres, from historical fantasy (Gods of Jade and Shadow) to romance with a splash of magic (The Beautiful Ones) to gothic horror (Mexican Gothic), and she handles all of them deftly. Certain Dark Things is her take on vampires, and it’s both gritty and elegant. Originally published in 2016, it will be re-released by Tor Books this May.
Witchmark, by C.L. Polk
If you follow Canada Reads, you’ve probably heard of Polk’s most recent book, The Midnight Bargain, which was a finalist in this year’s competition. Witchmark was their debut novel, and it is equally worth your time. Set in a world similar to Edwardian England, except where magic is controlled by noble families, this book is part fantasy, part romance, and part murder mystery. It won the World Fantasy Award in 2019.
The Trickster Trilogy, by Eden Robinson
This coming-of-age story blends everyday teen existence with Indigenous beliefs. It follows Jared’s journey as he learns that his family bloodlines are more complicated than he thought. These novels are funny, heartbreaking, and magical. I have recommended them over and over and will likely continue to do so. The final book in the trilogy, Return of the Trickster, was released in early March, and is at the very top of my to-read pile.
Among Others, by Jo Walton
Jo Walton is a treasure, and this book, published in 2011, is my favourite of hers. In it, a teen girl struggles with her painful childhood and escaping an ancient enchantment. It’s a magical coming of age story, a love letter to the genres of science fiction and fantasy, and a meditation on the experience of otherness. This is a difficult novel to distill into a short description, but I recommend it to those who enjoy books that are infused with quiet magic.
Perfect for fans of The Scent Keeper and The Keeper of Lost Things, an atmospheric and enchanting debut novel about two women haunted by buried secrets but bound by a shared gift and the power the past holds over our lives.
Ev has a mysterious ability, one that she feels is more a curse than a gift. She can feel the emotions people leave behind on objects and believes that most of them need to be handled extremely carefully, and—if at all possible—destroyed. The harmless ones she sells at Vancouver’s Chinatown Night Market to scrape together a living, but even that fills her with trepidation. Meanwhile, in another part of town, Harriet hoards thousands of these treasures and is starting to make her neighbors sick as the overabundance of heightened emotions start seeping through her apartment walls.
When the two women meet, Harriet knows that Ev is the only person who can help her make something truly spectacular of her collection. A museum of memory that not only feels warm and inviting but can heal the emotional wounds many people unknowingly carry around. They only know of one other person like them, and they fear the dark effects these objects had on him. Together, they help each other to develop and control their gift, so that what happened to him never happens again. But unbeknownst to them, the same darkness is wrapping itself around another, dragging them down a path that already destroyed Ev’s family once, and threatens to annihilate what little she has left.
The Memory Collectors casts the everyday in a new light, speaking volumes to the hold that our past has over us—contained, at times, in seemingly innocuous objects—and uncovering a truth that both women have tried hard to bury with their pasts: not all magpies collect shiny things—sometimes they gather darkness.
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