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Interviews, Recommendations, and More

Shelf Talkers: Fall 2022

There’s a delightful chill to the air this morning, a soft burn in the nostrils as you inhale the smell of fallen leaves, the damp of rain on the horizon. It's fall, for a few more weeks, the most glorious time of the year, and the season when everything in a reader’s life comes together. It’s the busiest publishing season, with new books popping up like mushrooms after the rain. It’s literary prize season, with curated reading lists to add to our already teetering stacks. And it’s nippy enough that one eagerly seeks the comfort of their favourite reading-place to pull up the blanket and settle in for a good read.

As I said, it’s the most glorious time of the year.

To make it even better, the booksellers of Shelf Talkers—Canada’s best independent readers!—are here with their recommendations for your autumn reading. Please check out their picks below, then bundle up, and head out to your local independent bookseller. Make the most of the season!

The Bookseller: David Worsley, Words Worth Books (Waterloo, ON)


The Pick: Big Men Fear Me, by Mark Bourrie

Mark Bourrie's Big Men Fear Me is the story of George McCullagh, a dominant figure in Canadian media and politics from the Depression to the end of World War Two, who was seemingly lost to history.

The story of a Gatsby-like Southern Ontario hustler who made it big on guile, charm and sweat—all while battling bipolar disorder in a less enlightened time—makes for fascinating reading and illuminates our age of domineering and megalomaniacal media barons. If Elon Musk had something other than a calculator for a heart, these two might have been related.

This one belongs under a hell of a lot of trees this holiday season, and while it's great that Mark Bourrie is a top tier historian and author, one marvels at how many kids could have gotten entirely hooked had he taught at a couple of high schools.

Big Men Fear Me puts the lie to the idea that Canadian history is boring. In the right hands, it reads like a great thriller.



The Bookseller: James Schmidt, Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)

The Pick: Fortune Knox Once, by Jack Knox

In his latest book, Fortune Knox Once, Jack Knox gives us more hilarious and thought-provoking essays on life on Vancouver Island, in Canada, and in the world, including several reflections on the impact of COVID on our lives. Whether reading "In Praise of Ugly Trucks" or "Bring on the Zombie Mutants," the reader will find this book an enjoyable antidote to the angst of our times. Don’t buy just one! This will make a fabulous gift this season!



The Bookseller: Mary-Ann Yazedjian, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)

The Pick: Fayne, by Ann-Marie MacDonald

We've waited eight years for a new novel by MacDonald and wow it was worth the wait! Vibrant and intelligent twelve-year-old Charlotte lives on a vast and isolated estate bordering Scotland and England with her father, the Baron, and a quirky and lovable staff. Charlotte has never travelled beyond Fayne, due to a mysterious "condition." With incredible tenderness and insight, MacDonald weaves an audacious and beautiful story of a family's secrets and lies. Highly recommended.


The Bookseller: Chris Hall of McNally Robinson (Winnipeg, MN)

The Picks:


The Power of Story: On Truth, the Trickster, and New Fictions for a New Era, by Harold Johnson

Johnson explains the role of storytelling in every aspect of human life and illustrates how we can direct its potential to re-create and reform not only our own lives, but the life we share.


The Theory of Crows, by David A. Robertson

A new novel for adults from a prolific local author who seems to be able to write for everyone. Here, a father and his teen daughter face a crisis that takes them to their ancestral home, where they look for connection to each other as well as to something more profound.

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, by Kate Beaton


Before Kate Beaton was famous, she was Katie Beaton of Cape Breton and this is her story about heading west to Alberta’s oil rush. The best qualities of the graphic novel are on display here from contrasting tiny humans against massive landscapes to telling parts of stories without words.


Making Love with the Land, by Joshua Whitehead

Whitehead is back with a very personal memoir about his relationship with himself, language, the world and, most specifically, the land. As we reexamine our relationship with land, he asks how it has shaped our ideas, our histories and our very bodies. A book very uniquely its own with so much to offer us.



Haven, by Emma Donoghue

Donoghue is very good at telling stories that take place in tiny spaces. This time, in the year 600, three monks attempt to eke out survival on a tiny remote island that appeared to the leader in a dream. The setting may be small, but the story resonates much farther.


The Shortest History of War: From Hunter-Gatherers to Nuclear Superpowers – A Retelling for Our Times, by Gwynne Dyer

Dyer returns with a succinct and updated history of war. He searches for the origins in primitive man and primates and continues to drones and algorithms. He remains hopeful that if we understand history we can alter our futures.



The (Future) Bookseller: Oliver Holt, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)

The Pick: Apartment 713, by Kevin Sylvester

Apartment 713 is filled with adventure, secrets, new friendships, and time travel! Kevin Sylvester writes great characters that you wish you could be friends with in real life. If you loved The Fabulous Zed Watson you will love this too.


The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, bookseller emeritus (Peterborough, ON)


The Pick: The Son of the House, by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia

Shortlisted for the 2021 Giller, The Son of the House lives up to its hype. A tangled tale about the rich and poor in Nigeria, about old cultures and modernity, about customs and traditions, this novel weaves through two women’s complicated lives to create a spell-binding look at love and loss, at friendship and motherhood. I couldn’t put it down. The exciting framing, a terrifying kidnapping, sets everything up in an unexpected way. This is such a thoughtful and forceful book.
The Bookseller: Jo Treggiari, Block Shop Books (Lunenburg, NS)
The Picks:


Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, by Kate Beaton

Beaton's gorgeous, intimate and powerful graphic memoir follows 22-year old Kate, newly graduated from university, as she leaves her native Cape Breton, moving to the oil sands of Alberta at the height of the boom to make enough money to pay off her debilitating school loans. Once there, she finds that men far outnumber women at a ratio of 50 to 1. Life in the camps is rough and the events Beaton describes are often harrowing, touching on themes of rape, drug use and overdose, sexual harassment and mental illness. Community resources and services are non-existent and the labour is intense and fraught with risk of personal injury. But there's also plenty of humour and a lot of compassion and empathy, skillfully portrayed in ink, and mirroring the deeply personal story she tells of her oil sands, rendered in nuanced shades of grey.


Animal Person: Stories, by Alexander MacLeod

This collection of short stories by Haligonian MacLeod (son of revered author Alistair MacLeod), is rich and wry. Each of the eight tales is linked through an examination of what it means to be human and each is wholly satisfying, as complete and complex as any novel. Relationships, loss, change, love, regret and the sometimes mundanity of daily life are meticulously examined and illuminated in prose that shines and unfolds in surprising and compelling ways. A man ponders the disintegration of his family while witnessing the violence of nature. A couple stays in a hotel for a couple of days not knowing that the man next door is a serial killer. A boy mourning the death of his childhood friend helps the person responsible for her demise. A person steals airport luggage in order to understand and share the lives of strangers. There is a dazzling wealth of skill on display here, proof that perhaps this kind of storytelling is at least partly genetic.


A Womb In The Shape of a Heart: My Story of Miscarriage and Motherhood, by Joanne Gallant

 A deftly-written, intimate and powerful memoir that deserves to be read widely for its honesty, empathy and beautiful prose. Gallant, a pediatric nurse, writes openly and poignantly about her miscarriages, before and after the 'miracle' birth of her son. The story is achingly personal but as all great memoirs are, it speaks to every human who yearns to hold their baby in their arms and de-stigmatizes the grief and trauma surrounding such losses. Gallant transforms her vulnerability and her heartbreak into something beautiful on the page and invites the reader in to share her pain but also those precious moments of profound joy.


A Rush of Wings, by Laura Weymouth

A YA retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Wild Swans, this keeps the darkness but empowers the sister, Rowenna, whose family will be cursed forever unless she can make peace with her own wild gifts and save them all. Rowenna has never been taught how to control her magic because she cannot control her temper but in fact it is what gives her agency as she battles the foul creature who has replaced her mother, taken away her voice, and imprisoned her brothers in swan form. Interwoven with the fantasy and the magic and heightening the tension is the conflict between the highlanders of Northern Britain and the invasive English. Wonderfully moody and atmospheric, windswept and lashed with salt spray.

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Dead Man in the Garden, by Marthe Jocelyn

The third instalment in the Aggie Morton (the future Agatha Christie) series finds Aggie and her Belgian friend Hector Perot accompanying her mother, grieving widow Mrs. Morton as she takes the medicinal waters at a spa in Harrogate. But all is not as idyllic as it seems and soon the death count rises. Filled with wonderful characters, some familiar like indomitable Grannie Jane and the intrepid journalist Augustus Fibley, and some new, like George, a spirited 12-year-old boy confined to a wheel-chair and delightfully morbid Eva Napoli, apprentice undertaker. The pacing is superb, the red herrings are bountiful, and the twists are twisty.


Let the Monster Out, by Chad Lucas

Haligonian middle-grade author Lucas delivers a fast-paced mystery that tugs at the heartstrings. Bones, who is Black, and his single-mother family are in the minority in the mostly white small town they've just moved to. He is used to fighting against injustice whenever he faces it and tries to always be there for his friends but his anger is out of control. Kyle has always felt like he doesn't fit in. His brain works differently than most people's. As secrets are revealed, the two boys and their circle of friends soon realize that there's something weird going on. Grownups are starting to act strangely and it seems to stem from the mega corporation that employs most of the town. Like Lucas's previous book, Thanks A Lot, Universe, it's the terrific friendships and support between the characters that empowers Bones and Kyle to face and defeat monsters of all kinds. A winning combination of mystery, sci-fi and realistic contemporary fiction.


The Bookstore: Iron Dog Books (Tsleil-Waututh, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Musqueam territories - Vancouver, BC)
The booksellers and their picks:


Df recommends Ritual Lights, by Joelle Barron

These poems are rife with luminous detail; deeply intimate and vulnerable. Ritual Lights holds my all-time favourite poem "Sow Me Below Rhubarb."


Drew recommends On Browsing, by Jason Guriel

A charming ode to searching for books and records in bricks and mortar stores. A light-hearted but thoughtful meditation on what we're losing in our race to embrace technology and discard the analog relics of our not-so-distant past.   

Regina recommends Valley of the Birdtail: An Indian Reserve, a White Town, and the Road to Reconciliation, by Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Douglas Sanderson


Weaving personal narratives and legal, historical facts, Valley of the Birdtail provides an important case-study into Canada's historic and ongoing injustices. This title is accessible and inviting to readers from all walks of life.

Hilary recommends Fifty-Four Pigs, by Philipp Schott


Set in a small town in rural Manitoba, Fifty-Four Pigs employs the best of the classic mystery conventions to create a charming sense of place and an endearing cast that I can't wait to get to know over the course of the series. A perfect cozy mystery for the cool days of fall or the icy days of winter, best read with a hot cup of tea nearby.


The Bookseller: Liz Greenaway, Audreys Books (Edmonton, AB)
The Picks:


Jennie’s Boy: A Newfoundland Childhood, by Wayne Johnston

As a big Wayne Johnston fan, I couldn’t put his latest memoir, Jennie’s Boy, down. It tells of a very short, specific time in his childhood when he had multiple illnesses and injuries that go largely untreated due to the extreme poverty and in some part parental neglect and addiction.

It’s a hard story to read but one I couldn’t turn away from, much like Angela Ashes, that’s softened by seven year old Wayne himself and the abundant Newfoundland wit. Highly recommended.


Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland and the Golden Age of Hollywood, by Melanie Gall

This book tells the story of a Winnipeg girl who ends up in Hollywood supporting her family, becoming friends and rivals with Judy Garland and ending up the highest paid actress in Hollywood for a time.

This fascinating book reads like a fast-paced thriller. Gall, based in Edmonton, has written and toured several solo international Fringe shows, and knows how to tell a story. Highly recommended for anyone interested in a good Hollywood story.

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