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Shelf Talkers Spring 2022

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

The Picks:

The Strangers, by Katherena Vermette

This powerful intergenerational saga, told through multiple narratives, explores family and the connection that endure even when families are broken apart. A complex and beautifully written novel.

Urchin, by Kate Story

This coming-of-age tale of Dor, a non-binary teen, crackles with energy against the backdrop of Newfoundland's surging seas and howling winds, precarious ice fields and mudslides. A glorious, literary mish mash of magical surrealism and history, filled with sparkling moments of suspense and humour.  


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

The Pick: An Unthinkable Thing, by Nicole Lundrigan

There's a ton of milquetoast crime fiction out there in which a "normal" family behaves abnormally. Broadly …

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Shelf Talkers: Books to Keep the Light Streaming In

There is no way to sugar-coat this: we are living in difficult times. We’re entering the third year of a global pandemic, scarcely daring to hope that the end might be in sight (it’s become a bit like Charlie Brown and the football, hasn’t it?). Canadian society is buckling along ideological lines, and many of us are going to have PTSD from the sound of truck horns. What's more, it’s beginning to look like there will be no going back for any of us. We have no idea what the future might look like, and many of us are drifting in a troubling, troubled limbo.

Thankfully, there do remain a few refuges, safe spaces where we can shut out the world for a while, if that’s what we need, or explore it more deeply, if that’s what we want. Places we can see the past, and imagined futures. Places we can find even moments of stability and calm.

I’m talking, of course, about books.

And I’m talking about bookstores. Independent, Canadian bookstores.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our Canadian booksellers have been a beacon in the darkness, a place – both physical and virtual – of respite, of calm, repositories of story, and cathedrals of hope. I say that without fear of contradiction – our booksellers have provided a vital service over the past two years, by doing what they have always done: giving our readers a place of safety, and a connection to countless brighter worlds.

As we round this particular turn, wondering what’s next, remember: your local independent boo …

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Shelf Talkers: Books to Buy for the Holidays

The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, Hunter Street Books (Peterborough, ON)

The Pick: A Town Called Solace, by Mary Lawson

Longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, A Town Called Solace is a gem. It’s a quiet, thoughtful book about loss and about intense human relationships. It has three narrators—seven-year-old Clara, thirty-year-old Liam, and the elderly Elizabeth, a woman at the end of her life. Each of these characters is connected to the others but has to solve their own mysteries before they can move forward in life. Clara’s sister has gone missing, Liam has to figure out his past, and Elizabeth has to come to terms with a crime in her history. These characters live in the small town of Solace and they interact and comfort each other as they figure out their lives. It’s a deep but fast book—the narration pushes you along quickly—contemplative and compelling, full of beautiful moments and thoughts. A must read.


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

The Pick: Vile Spirits, by John MacLachlan Gray

In Vile Spirits, J …

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Shelf Talkers: Brilliant Debuts and Award Winners to Read Right Now

Eventually, at some point, we’re going to just have to stop talking about how weird everything is, right?

I mean, it would certainly help if things weren’t so weird on such an ongoing basis.

Look at this summer, for example. We’ve got scorching highs, record rains, and unreasonable balminess, which sounds pretty standard for a Canadian summer until you realize those weather blips are all occurring in the wrong places. Victoria, for example, where one expects rain no matter the season, is now a month-and-a-half worth of rainless days in a row. And let’s not even talk about the heat dome. Please, I’m begging you. No more heat dome. I want to just forget it, as quickly as possible.

As we have come to learn over the last year and a half, when caught in times of weirdness, we are best advised to hold on to what stability and familiarity we can.

And, of course, for many of us, that means books. It might be a weird summer, but it’s a summer nonetheless, and there is no better season for reading. So strip down, or swaddle up (I leave it up to you and whatever your current weather system is doing), and dig into these recommendations from independent booksellers across the country. And if you can make it outside without wilting (or being swept away), visit your local independent bookseller for even more recommendations.


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Shelf Talkers: Spring 2021

One of the best pieces of news in an otherwise dark year was the word that, despite the growth of online giants during the Covid-19 pandemic, independent bookstores were not, in fact, at death’s door. More than holding their own, they were thriving.

If you were surprised by this news, you shouldn’t have been.

Independent booksellers have always been a breed apart, used to shifting on their feet, bouncing back in the face of adversity, bobbing and weaving as the world rains blows down upon them. They’re smart, and nimble, able to turn on a dime, to embrace change, to make the most of negative situations.
And they do it without a lot of recognition, without a lot of reward. They do it because they love it, because they feel a deep connection to their communities, to their customers, and to the books they sell.

And they never hesitate to do more.

Here, once again, are the independent booksellers of the Shelf Talkers panel, with some recommendations. Please, call your local indie. Drop by, and say hello. Buy a book.


The Bookseller: Susan Chamberlain, The Book Keeper (Sarnia, ON)
The Pick: Jonny Appleseed, by Joshua Whitehead

CBC’s Canada Reads has spoken, and we are all to read Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, so I did. Joshua Whitehead delivers an impressive …

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Shelf Talkers: Books to Make Our Groundhog Day Existence More Wonderful

I’ve always been a big fan of Groundhog Day. Not the weird annual meteorological marmot celebration (I can never keep track of what happens if the groundhog sees his shadow, or not), but the weirdly charming Harold Ramis movie, featuring Bill Murray at his Bill Murray best, living through the same day, over and over, with no release on the horizon.

The movie is a lot less charming, though, now that we’re all having the same experience. A lot less charm. A lot less good humour. A lot more Zoom.

But here we are, almost a year into what many of us have come to call “how we live now” (AKA “our weird new times” or “all THIS”). We’ve mostly adjusted to our curtailed existences, our limited horizons, our close quarters. And it seems somewhat petty to complain, so long as we have our health, and we are able to put food on the table. (Okay, it’s a TV table—let’s not try to kid anyone here.)

So, instead of complaining, let’s talk about a small, good thing.

If you guessed “books,” you get a sticker.

Honestly, though, books are among the things that have helped most in the last months of weirdness and isolation. Worlds to explore, stories to escape into, journeys to undertake when we can’t go anywhere at all. And Canada’s independent booksellers have been at the forefront of efforts to make this time of strangeness liveable, not only with their ability to provide options for safe shopping—from limited browsing to drive-by pick-ups to local delivery—but in …

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Shelf Talkers: Indie Booksellers Get Us Through the End of the Year

Oh, 2020.

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!


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Shelf Talkers: Melting Queens, Mysteries, and More

With all due respect and apologies to the rest of the country (I’m looking at you especially, St. John’s), I’d like us to take a moment to consider winter.

This is a topic with which, until recently, I have been largely unfamiliar. Now, though, having survived two days in which there were several centimetres of snow on the ground in Victoria, I feel uniquely qualified to discuss the frigid season. (Honestly, I’ve never felt more Canadian.)

And I just have to say: I don’t like it.

No sir. Not one bit.

It probably goes without saying that, for me, adding “winter” in front of the word “sports” doesn’t do anything to make them more enticing. And have you noticed that all of these “fun” pastimes are actually accidents waiting to happen? “Hey kids, let’s strap a board or two onto our feet and go down a frozen hill really fast!” “You know what sounds like fun? Tying blades to our feet and trying to stay upright on a sheet of ice!”

Not for me.

And then there’s the matter of trying to figure out where you packed your scarf and gloves twenty-three years ago, after the end of the Blizzard of '96. How can I possibly be expected to keep track of things like that?

No, with my harrowing exposure to winter, I have come to a simple conclusion: the groundhogs have it right.

Think about it: they stay in their dens during the coldest months of the year, they poke their heads out when they think the worst has passed, and if it hasn’t, they sequester themselves for an …

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Shelf Talkers: Indie Booksellers' Fall 2019 Picks

Weeks like this – the transition between seasons – serve as a strong reminder of just how huge and far-flung this country truly is. And no, I’m not talking about the federal election campaigning.

As I write, meteorologists are predicting heavy snow for parts of the prairies. Meanwhile, the temperature is in the twenties in Toronto, it’s twelve degrees in St. John’s, four degrees in Yellowknife, and fourteen degrees outside my front door in Victoria.

You might be expecting something pithy right now, something like “thankfully, we’re united in our love of books.” While this might be true – I certainly think it is – I’m reminded regularly through this column just how disparate Canadians are as readers. There’s no better reflection of this than the choices of the independent booksellers of the Shelf Talkers panel. They're recommending fiction and nonfiction, books for adults and books for kids, books about caves and trees, art and literature, current events and timeless novels of connection; something for everyone, really.

Sometime soon, before the snow hits, you’d be well-advised to make your way to your local independent bookstore and ask your favourite bookseller what they’re reading; you never know what they might have in store. In the meantime, here are some of their favourite books of the year.


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Shelf Talkers: Marilyn Monroe, YA Romance, Magic Basketball, and More

Some of us – many of us – have a conflicted relationship with summer.

On the one hand, we anticipate the season as one of leisure, with extra daylight to spend on patios or beaches, the heat preventing us from doing anything too onerous. A time to savour the slow passage of the day, the lingering of the evening.

And yet, when summer arrives, we are suddenly taken up with the idea of projects. Extra daylight means more time to get things done. Too hot? You’ll be so happy when it’s done, whatever “it” is. Building a new deck? That’s a perfect project for summer. Growing vegetables? Sure, summer. Getting your life in order? Well, we’ll start it this summer.

And readers are no different. Summer is the season of “beach reads” and of ambitious summer reading projects. The latter is a hold-over, I think, from those glorious summers of our childhoods, when the library ran their summer reading programs. (Did anyone else get a tingle reading those words? I bet you did.) One summer, I swam the Great Lakes. Another, I walked across the Sahara. All without leaving my room or the shade of my grandmother’s apple tree, my preferred spot for reading.

In a lot of ways, reading is the perfect summer reading project: you get to accomplish something AND you don’t have to break a sweat in doing it! You can savour the leisure of summer AND feel the faint edge of righteousness that comes with a job well done!

This time around, the independent booksellers of the Shelf Talkers colum …

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Shelf Talkers: Whispering Words to Hasten Spring's Arrival

I don’t want to jinx anything, but it needs to be said: Happy Spring!

I’m knocking wood, just to be safe.

This is, I think you’ll agree, an unusual spring. Usually, the vernal equinox signals a period of regrowth, of blossoming, of fresh green in the trees and t-shirts worn outside, without a parka!

This year, though, spring is a bit different. Across the country, it’s been greeted with whispered questions: Can it be? Is the long winter of our discontent finally over?

Spring has limped late even into Victoria. To the cheer of our social media friends, we had snow in March. Snow. In Victoria. In March.

That sort of thing will mess with the cherry blossoms.

But let’s, for the sake of argument, embrace the season, the spirit of renewal.

Here in the Shelf Talkers column, we have a round-up of books for your spring reading pleasure. And, in keeping with the theme, we have a couple of new booksellers aboard, offering their choices from Peterborough and the Tsleil-Waututh, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Musqueam territories.

We have fiction and non-fiction, YA and adult books, even a little something for poetry month.

You might say we’re blossoming (so long as you knock wood while you say it).

So let’s all get out there and enjoy the spring, maybe hitting up an independent bookstore while you’re out.

But you might want to wear a hoodie; there’s no reason to go all crazy.


The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, Hunter Street Books (Peterborough, ON)

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Shelf Talkers: Books to Get You Through February

For many Canadians, February is the doldrums of the year. The holiday season, and the promise of a new year, is but a distant memory, and winter seems to have taken hold with a cold fury that seems like it may never end. Of course we know that spring will come eventually, but in the meantime, it's a perfect time for self-care. Not the much-ballyhooed, often impetuous self-improvement of resolutions for the new year, but genuine self-care. Think baggy sweaters and hand-knit slippers, think warm baths and hot drinks, think, of course, of books. (And if your self-care includes chocolates, well, no one here will judge you.)

The Bookseller: Stella Kingscote, Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)

The Pick: A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozecki

Ruth Ozeki threads her words into a precise combination of magic and realism to create what is A Tale for the Time Being. Young Nao’s journal guides the reader into the story of her life, and how she faced the bared teeth of a bullying society, dealt with family dysfunction, and found peace in her grandmother's comfort. Ozeki tugs your heartstrings with this beautiful novel. Sometimes you may want to look away from the words on the page, just as Nao would have done if she were able to; but the story keeps you. This nove …

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