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Shelf Talkers: November 2023

It might just be me, but I want to put it out there—is time feeling increasingly slippery for anyone else? Like, somehow it’s late October, when yesterday it was August? I’m now putting down draft snakes in the windows to try to keep the heat in my apartment, when just yesterday (it seems) I was doing everything in my power to cool off.

It’s possible that time is so slippery because I’ve been spending so much time outside of it. Nothing takes us away from the real world quite like a good book, a means to slip out of our everyday life and into another place, another time. Sometimes, returning to the actual world is a bit jarring. You can feel a bit lost. Outside of time, outside of reality. Truth be told, that’s one of my favourite feelings in the world.

As usual, independent booksellers from across the country have stepped up for Shelf Talkers. They do so four times a year, and we are most grateful.


The Bookseller: Liz Green, Audreys Books (Edmonton, AB)
The Pick: Daughter, by Claudia Dey
Daughter revolves around Mona and her larger than life, manipulative, and narcissistic father as he draws her closer and pushes her away, as he sees fit, often playing her against his other relationships, especially his daughter by another marriage. Claudia Dey writes beautifully about this ebb and flow and its toll on Mona. The echoes of Lear are obvious, but that leaves us with this question: if Mona's father, Paul, is Lear, which daughter is Mona?

Compelling and lyrical, the book drew me in and didn't let me go until its satisfying conclusion. It's a book I will keep thinking about for a while ... hopefully, until I get my book club to read it.



The Bookseller: Megan Pickering, Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)
The Picks:

Moon of the Turning Leaves, by Waubgeshig Rice
A beautifully written novel with descriptions that engage all the senses. This dystopian sequel does not disappoint, and in fact, I think has even more depth than Moon of the Crusted Snow, and I thought that one was fabulous. Rice thoughtfully incorporates Anishinaabe language and culture to make this story immersive and authentic. I gave it 5 stars.

east grand lake

East Grand Lake, by Tim Ryan
I thoroughly enjoyed Tim Ryan's East Grand Lake—it tells the story of an extended family's summer vacation at a cottage somewhere east of Ontario. It's a novel told in 14 stories (chapters) about how three generations of the Murphy family come together to share love, loss, happiness, redemption and growing up with cousins—lots of them! Funny, witty, nostalgic, wise and sometimes sad, this one will make you remember or wish you had cottage memories!



The Bookseller: Jo Treggiari, Block Shop Books (Lunenburg, NS)
The Adult Picks:
The Berry Pickers, by Amanda Peters
This beautifully written, immersive family mystery-drama is rich in detail and emotion. In the early 1960s a Nova Scotian Mi'kmaq family travels to Maine for the summer blueberry-picking season. It's a trip they make every year, a way to earn enough money to see them through the winter. They are a tight-knit family and a few weeks in, four-year-old Ruthie disappears, a tragedy that will affect the family for years, especially young Joe, who was supposed to be watching her at the time.

The storylines are shared between Joe and a young girl called Norma, who is growing up with loving but emotionally distant and overbearing parents who grant her little freedom. It quickly becomes apparent that Norma is Ruthie and that she has been stolen from her family.

The story is quick-paced and engrossing, with threads woven throughout that examine inter-generational trauma, racism, residential schools, and missing Indigenous women. The characters of Norma and Joe in particular are deftly captured and the narrative is filled with hope, moments of black humour, determination, and joy.



When We Lost Our Heads, by Heather O'Neill
How to describe this very clever novel which is set in 1873 Montreal, and tells the story of two exceedingly close (one might even say obsessive) childhood friends, while also retelling the story of Marie Antoinette and The French Revolution? An intense, passionate exploration of gender dynamics, politics, class inequality, oppression and love.

Marie Antoine is the adored, spoiled daughter of a sugar baron. She rules the Golden Mile until Sadie Arnett moves in. Sadie is brilliant, charismatic and has all the best ideas but then a tragic event, born of their imaginative play, rips them apart.

Marie inherits power, while Sadie loses everything and reinvents herself in the slums.

They are reunited when the downtrodden workers begin to plan revolution.

Political and sexual, sensual and powerful, this is a dizzying read.


Young Adult pick:


Something More, by Jackie Khalilieh
A fresh and funny contemporary romantic YA story about a fifteen-year-old Palestinian-Canadian girl who has been diagnosed with autism right before she starts high school.

Jessie is obsessed with all things 90s and this novel definitely has a nostalgic feel about it. Think The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. Before her first day, Jessie makes a list of goals and aims to achieve all of them over the course of the school year. Through Jessie's honest and vivid voice, the reader is privy to all of her internal struggles regarding her own neurodivergent brain, new friends, boys and social interactions, which lend so much warmth and character to the story. Frequent moments of hilarity and a real sense of the high-school experience with all its firsts, make for a completely engaging read.



Middle grade pick:
Jude Saves the World, by Ronnie Riley
A sweet, hopeful and funny middle-grade with some heavier themes mixed in. Jude and Dallas are each other's people. Dallas is there for Jude, a twelve-year-old, queer, neurodivergent kid, and Jude is there for Dallas. When they befriend ex-popularity queen Stevie, who's just been kicked out of her social group for maybe having a crush on another girl, the three of them band together to create a safe space for the students in their school. Filled with charm and a lot of heart, it's impossible not to fall for these characters. They tackle big issues with kindness, openness and thoughtfulness. Queer positive and centring queer joy. Own voices Canadian author.


The Bookseller: Shelley Macbeth, Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)


The Pick: In the Country in the Dark, by Daryl Sneath
Tis the spooky session... and just in time, a psychological thriller that will satisfy lovers of uncovering secrets, haunted houses and exploring obsessions. Daryl Sneath has crafted a perfect gem to uncover in the country in the dark.



The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, bookseller emeritus (Peterborough, ON)
The Pick: The Opportunist, by Elyse Friedman
The Opportunist combines the kind of wealth and greed of the streaming series Succession with a taut, dysfunctional, psychological thriller.

Alana, the estranged sister in the family, has been convinced to attend her aged father’s wedding to his extremely young nurse by her greedy brothers, Martin and Teddy, who have been working hard to stop it. After many twists and turns, a surprise ending, and wildly believable characters, the novel ends with a satisfying shock. Elyse Friedman, a graduate of the Canadian Film Centre and an award-winning screenplay writer, brilliantly reveals her skills here. The Opportunist could easily be a film. I kept wanting to close my eyes to see it—but then I couldn’t see the words on the page. A great thriller, set on a private island on the West Coast, The Opportunist can’t be missed.



The Bookseller: Megan Pickering, Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)
The Pick: River Mumma, by Zalika Reid Benta
Zalika really does bring you downtown Toronto with this book, but not only that, you can feel the chill of the water when she submerges or when the River Mumma bellows her name. A truly captivating book that captures the two pieces of her world. I can't stop thinking about this book!


The Bookseller: Lee Trentadue, Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)
The Picks:

Cracking the Nazi Code: The Untold Story of Canada’s Greatest Spy, by Jason Bell
For every reader who loves a great spy story! This one does not disappoint. Dr. Winthrop Bell was a Canadian philosopher who taught at Harvard, a student in Germany before World War I. He worked as a spy for Britain in Germany, gathering valuable information about how the Nazis were gaining the power to take over democratic Germany. He spent many years gathering information that he supplied to the Allies warning of the rise of the extreme right wing in Germany and their murderous plans. A fascinating story of his life and work.


Races: The Trials and Triumphs of Canada’s Fastest Families, by Valerie Jerome
This is a heartbreaking account of the intersection of racism and sport in one Canadian family over several years during the 60s and beyond. Harry Jerome was an Olympic racer, Canada’s first Black Olympian, who was considered the world’s fastest runner. Valerie Jerome, the author, competed with her brother Harry during the 1960 games in Rome. Her story documents racism over the course of their lives: in sports, growing up in their community, at school, by the press, in their jobs, and even in her own family. It is a difficult read, but a memoir that every Canadian SHOULD read.


The Bookseller: Colin Holt, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)
The Pick: Together at SoBo, by Lisa Ahier
It may be too late to dine in at Tofino’s beloved SoBo (which closed earlier this year) but thankfully Lisa Ahier has released a second book of mouthwatering recipes so we can learn to recreate the food at home. Together at SoBo is composed of beautiful photographs with
easy-to-follow recipes and also includes stories of many of the people that are important to bringing this food to life. Perfect for the foodie in your life.


The Bookseller: David Worsley, Words Worth Books (Waterloo, ON)
The Pick: A Death at the Party, by Amy Stuart
Planning a party for an auspicious occasion comes with untoward pressure. But Nadine Walsh has pulled it off. The band, the finery, food and drink– everything works. So why is Nadine is standing over a corpse at the opening of the novel while this party is well underway?

An agenda-laden cast of characters, secrets, circumstance, luck and denial are ever-present while everything unfolds over the course of one day. A Death at the Party works on a bunch of levels, but it's mostly a triumph of structure and place. In this kicking good why-done-it rather than a who-done-it, Amy Stuart cements her spot at the top of Canadian crime writing. I will read everything she writes.

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