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Interviews, Recommendations, and More

Shelf Talkers: Books to Usher Us into Summer!

There is a moment which comes around this time every year.

Curiously, we don’t know when it will come.

We don’t know what form it will take.

And, despite its importance, we will likely forget it almost as soon as it happens.

Unless we are reminded, that is.

That moment might come when you’re out for a morning walk, and the breeze is warm, rather than cool.

The moment might take the form of a particular slant of light through a window.

Or it might come with the faint smell of distant flowers or freshly mown lawn.

It might come with the first sip of a cold beer on a sunny patio, or with the first crack of a bat, or slap of a ball in a glove.

Whatever form it takes, you’ll know it: in that moment, the seasons have changed. Winter is behind us. Ahead, a few months of spring and summer (or, if you’re on the West Coast, this year, just summer). It’s a feeling of liberation, of sudden lightness.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel, maybe just for a moment, in love with the world.

And with a new season, we’re pleased to present a new set of recommendations from Canada’s independent booksellers, the devoted members of the Shelf Talkers community. Books to take with you into the world. Books to read on a beach, or a bench, or a patio. Books to be read with all the joy that a new season, and a new favourite book, can bring you.

Happy Spring into Summer, Canada – we deserve it.


The Bookseller: Jo Treggiari, Block Shop Books (Lunenburg, NS)
The Picks: Tell Me Pleasant Things About Immortality, by Lindsay Wong

A wild, taut, and darkly funny collection of immigrant horror stories. A whip-smart, visceral blend of Chinese folklore, modern life, and Canadian immigration experience. The ghosts and monsters portrayed here are achingly human despite their sometimes gross behaviour. Transformation is a big theme. Favourites included the tale of the 17th-century courtesan who cannot die and becomes an emblem of immortality even as chunks of her body fall off, a story about a mail-order bride who mistakenly triggers the apocalypse in Nebraska, Noodley Delight in which a ghostly granny returns to deal with the bullies tormenting her grandchildren, and Red-Tongued Ghosts in which a ghoulish family haunts a Hot Springs spa high in the mountains and discovers purposeful life goals after death.


Motherthing, by Ainslie Hogarth

What a strange twisted literary tale! Hogarth shines her incisive intellect on motherhood through a horror-tinged lens, and although there are some disturbing scenes the suspense is more psychological than straight-up terror. Caregiver Abby Lamb is desperate to save her beloved, soft-hearted husband who is struggling with his mental health following his mother's self-inflicted death. A bitter, cruel and manipulative woman, she is now haunting them both. Abby becomes more and more unhinged, her interior monologues filled with vivid imagery and haunting dream-like sequences as she struggles to become the perfect wife. Razor-sharp, quirky, a tad manic, and mordantly funny, Hogarth examines childhood trauma, complex relationships, and love.



The Bookseller: Kit McKeown, Iron Dog Books (Tsleil-Waututh, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Musqueam territories - Vancouver, BC)
The Pick: The Fake, by Zoe Whittall

I've been excited about Zoe Whittall's work for years and her latest novel, The Fake, is extraordinary. In Toronto, Shelby is reeling after the death of her wife and Gibson is deeply depressed after a shattering divorce—until they each meet Cammie, a striking woman with a traumatic past and a penchant for the dramatic. When both Gibson and Shelby begin to realize that Cammie's life is a little too shocking to be true, they are forced to reckon with why they were attracted to her in the first place—and how to recover from becoming enmeshed with a liar. Read The Fake.



The Bookseller: David Worsley, Words Worth Books (Waterloo, ON)
The Pick: The Marigold, by Andrew Sullivan

There are novels that are ripped from the headlines.

There is speculative fiction that takes good guesses at the headlines in years to come.

The Marigold does all that, while scaring the hell out of you, and simultaneously marinating in an overriding gallows humour.

If Andrew Sullivan doesn't run for mayor of Toronto, every serious candidate should read this thing before they open their mouths. Wow.


The Bookseller: Janet Broder, Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)
The Picks:


My first one is the mystery/detective series by Iona Whishaw. The first title in this (now 10-title) series is A Killer in King's Cove. The setting is Nelson, BC, 1946, just after WW2. Protagonist Lane Winslow has come from England where she worked for a spy network and she's decided to settle in a small community and start her real career of writing. And then the dead body turns up. There's secrets, humour, dead bodies, small community mistrust and support and of course, some love interests. For lovers of Louise Penny.


Next, and I know this might be overdone, but I absolutely loved Hotline, by Dimitri Nasrallah. It is a multi-layered immigrant story with biting descriptions of a cold Montreal winter and a feel-good ending in time for spring.


The Bookseller: Chris Hall of McNally Robinson (Winnipeg, MN)
The Pick: Secret Life of the City: How Nature Thrives in the Urban Wild, by Hanna Bjorgaas

A biologist explores her backyard as well as city parks, cemeteries and concrete rooftops to tell us how plants and wildlife like songbirds, ants, seagulls and fungi survive and thrive in our cities.


The Bookseller: Colin Holt, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)
The Pick: Tree Thieves, by Lyndsie Bourgon

Tree Thieves is a troubling, yet fascinating, investigation of the timber black market. It's a tale that may have you on the edge of your seat while you wonder if that seat is made from stolen timber.


The Bookseller: Jo Treggiari, Block Shop Books (Lunenburg, NS)
More Picks:


Still, I Cannot Save You by Kelly Thompson

This raw, beautiful, honest memoir about sisterly love, addiction, cancer, and connection left me aching with sadness but also reminded me of the power of family and love. Thompson's portrayal of her relationship with her slightly older sister, Meghan, is forthright and messy, sometimes heavy with grief, but leavened also with truly hilarious moments and blatant joy. What the reader is left with is a deep kind of knowing—the unfairness and intractability of death and loss, but also the peace that can come with vulnerability and loving with a whole heart. Devastating and so worth it.


Bad Cree by Jessica Johns

A powerful literary novel about self-discovery and generational healing tinged with supernatural elements. Mackenzie's vivid dreams of her sister's death are creeping into her life. She wakes from a nightmare of drowning and coughs up water. Crows stalk her, knowing she killed one of their own. The wintry forest imprints itself on her skin; she finds branches in her bed.  She is being drawn back to her family she tried to escape and the lake in Alberta where Sabrina died. But is Mackenzie the one who'll bring her family back together or does she carry evil within her? A deft, dark, slow-burn novel with themes of family, and indigenous strength, and featuring strong female and non-binary role models.


The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, bookseller emeritus (Peterborough, ON)
And A Dog Called Fig, by Helen Humphreys

A memoir. A meditation. Helen Humphreys has written a fine non fiction book for all dog lovers (and for anyone who doesn’t even have a dog). This book gives the reader a look at what dogs give us, their companionship, love, mindfulness, silliness and instincts. Basically, their love of life. Humphreys starts with the death of her old dog, and then moves into the puppy-adoption of Fig, a Vizsla. Vizslas are red-coated, multi-purpose dogs originally bred in Hungary; they are essentially Pointers. Humphreys, who is a writer, is interested in how other creators live with dogs. She delves into Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Thomas Hardy and other writers’ lives and looks at their relationships with dogs – from crazy and chaotic puppyhood to old age. Humphreys teaches us, through canines, how to think about the creation of art, how to focus on life and how dogs teach us about the things we miss. This is a book that will make you laugh and cry. It should come with a warning: You will love dogs after reading.


The Bookseller: Jo Treggiari, Block Shop Books (Lunenburg, NS)
Still More Picks:


Ghostlight, by Kenneth Oppel

This upper-middle grade read combines Oppel's intoxicating mix of compelling characters with taut plotting. Non-believer Gabe, whose summer job consists of leading the Ghost Tour at an amusement park, inadvertently raises the ghost of Rebecca who died in the 1800s, a victim of a malevolent, cannibalistic spirit, Viko. Rebecca wants revenge and she and Gabe, teaming up with delightful secondary characters Yuri and Callie, embark on a quest to retrieve the mysterious ghost light, the only weapon capable of driving back the dead. Set in Toronto and sprinkled with historical details and landmarks, and inhabited by the ghosts of the original Indigenous peoples and those of real-life colonizers, this is a twisty thrill-ride—exciting, poignant and rich.


Apartment 713 by Kevin Sylvester

A charming time-travel mystery middle-grade. Jake and his job-hunting mother have just moved into The Regency, a dilapidated hotel housing an assortment of odd but enchanting residents, which has been scheduled for demolition. Jake is bored and lonely, but he befriends the building superintendent and slowly begins to know the eccentric inhabitants of the hotel. One day, although warned away from empty Apartment 713, he explores and is transported back in time where he meets Beth, the daughter of the hotel's genius architect. Stuck in the past, Jake has to figure out how to get home and how to save the hotel he has grown to love. Combining a treasure hunt with perplexing clues, hidden rooms, and a multitude of secrets, Sylvester succeeds in crafting an exciting and moving tale about the past, relationships, family, and compassion.



The Bookseller: Levi, Audreys Books (Edmonton, AB)
The Pick: Eat Alberta First by Karen Anderson

This is a fantastic reference book for food in Alberta. Building on her extensive knowledge of nutrition and community work, Karen Anderson has created a book that celebrates the wealth and bounty of this diverse province. The book is loaded full of delicious recipes.

My favourite recipe so far is the "Never the Same Way Coleslaw" which offers a ton of creative alternatives to this delicious side salad! Not only does this book act as a cookbook, but it is organized into different seasons in Alberta and what Albertans desire based on the weather that's around them. Another bonus is an extensive glossary of where to find local products.



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