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Launchpad: Grandmother School, by Rina Singh and Ellen Rooney

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This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter and great insight to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.

Today we're launching Grandmother School, by Rina Singh and Ellen Rooney, which comes highly recommended from CM: Canadian Review of Materials. Their reviewer writes, "How great a treat it will be to read this book in a grandmother’s lap."

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Book Cover Grandmother School

The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence:

Rina Singh and Ellen Rooney: It's a story about grandmothers in a village in India who go to school for the first time in their lives.

Describe your ideal reader.

Rina Singh: A six or a seven year old who will …

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Two Amazing Books for Young Readers

At a moment when so many of us are looking for inspiration and longing for visionary leadership, Kids Can Press and their YA imprint KCPLoft are delivering with two extraordinary new releases.

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Canadian Women Now and Then: More Than 100 Stories of Fearless Trailblazers, by Elizabeth MacLeod and Maia Faddoul

To the newish tradition of biographical anthologies of women whose stories deserve to be better known (think Rad Women Worldwide, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, and the excellent and Canadian-grown The Girl Who Rode a Shark) comes Canadian Women Now and Then, which puts a fresh twist on the genre by pairing  Canadian legends (think Roberta Bondar, Karen Kain, Emily Carr) with inspiring contemporary examples (introducing astronaut Jennifer Sidney-Gibbons, dancer Santee Smith (Tekaronkiahkhwa) and artist Christi Belcourt). Sometimes the contemporary women are the better known of the pair—journalist Sook-Yin Lee is profiled alongside Mary Ann Shadd, who in 1853 became the first Black woman in Canada to run a newspaper; Olympic swimmer Penny Oleksiak appears with Fanny "Bobbie" Rosenfeld, who competed as a runner in the 1928 Olympics. The Canadian-specific focus of this book is novel, and it's the connections between the women profiled that is especially m …

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Lives of Girls and Women

The lives of girls and women are multifold, which is why this list is loooong, exploring many different experiences of women in Canada and around the world.

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Power Shift:  The Longest Revolution, by Sally Armstrong

About the book: The facts are indisputable. When women get even a bit of education, the whole of society improves. When they get a bit of healthcare, everyone lives longer. In many ways, it has never been a better time to be a woman: a fundamental shift has been occurring. Yet from Toronto to Timbuktu the promise of equality still eludes half the world’s population.

In her 2019 CBC Massey Lectures, award-winning author, journalist, and human rights activist Sally Armstrong illustrates how the status of the female half of humanity is crucial to our collective surviving and thriving. Drawing on anthropology, social science, literature, politics, and economics, she examines the many beginnings of the role of women in society, and the evolutionary revisions over millennia in the realms of sex, religion, custom, culture, politics, and economics. What ultimately comes to light is that gender inequality comes at too high a cost to us all.

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The Chat with Kelly S. Thompson

Kelly S. Thompson served as a captain in the Canadian Armed Forces and writes about her experiences as a female soldier in her compelling debut memoir, Girls Need Not Apply: Field Notes from the Forces (McClelland & Stewart).

Lauren McKeon, author of F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism, writes, “In Girls Need Not Apply, Kelly S. Thompson presents us with a masterclass in resilience. With equal parts strength and vulnerability, Thompson navigates what it means to find belonging—and success—in a hyper-masculinized culture that was never built for women. A must-read for those of us who make it our daily habit to smash through age-old, sexist barriers.”

After several years of service, Kelly S. Thompson retired from the Canadian Armed Forces after an injury. She has an honours BA in Professional Writing from York University, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, and is a PhD. candidate in Literary and Critical Studies at the University of Gloucestershire. Her work has appeared in MacleansChatelaine, and Maisonneuve, as well as in various anthologies.

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Fiercely Feminist Fiction

In her third novel, The Last Resort, Marissa Stapley channels her feminist rage into a gripping thriller that reaches for justice, and in this recommended reading list, she finds solidarity with authors of other excellent recent books. 

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Last year, a distant cousin sent me an email about my novel Things to Do When It’s Raining. “It was lovely and heartwarming,” she wrote. “But . . . where’s your rage?” 

But I had just finished my novel, The Last Resort. In writing that book, I had poured all the rage I was feeling onto the page—about politics, about human rights violations, about the simple concept of love between two humans that's so often being complicated by small-minded bigots, about the #MeToo movement, and about my fear that the kind of future I had always imagined for my children was not going to be possible unless I did something about it myself. The result was a dark thriller unlike anything I had written before. The result was a furious book. 

I’ve noticed that many other authors are feeling just as furious as I was, and still am. Here’s a list of my favourite recent fiction reads. All of them have fierce female leads and a bone to pick with the patriarchy. I can’t get enough

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The Chat with Megan Gail Coles

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Update! Megan Gail Coles' Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club is a Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist so we're rerunning this interview from earlier this year. Don't forget to enter (on the left) for a chance to win the whole shortlist!

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Today we're in conversation with Megan Gail Coles, whose debut novel Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club (Anansi) packs a powerful punch. The book explores the lives of a cast of characters whose lives intersect during a Valentine’s Day blizzard at a trendy St. John’s restaurant.

The St. John’s Telegram says “Coles' writing is agile, precise, muscular, vernacular. She invests in voice and perspective and the payoff inscribes the page. It’s poetry of a frank, rough kind: some of it is hard to read.”

Megan Gail Coles is a graduate of Memorial University of Newfoundland and the National Theatre School of Canada, and she has recently completed a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia. She has written and produced numerous plays. Her first fiction collection, Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome, won the BMO Winterset Award, the ReLit Award, and the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award, and it earned her the one-time Writers’ Trust 5x5 prize. Small Game Hunting at the …

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Fierce: The Secret Life of Miss Freeman

Book Cover Fierce

Fierce: Women Who Shaped Canada, written by Lisa Dalrymple with illustrations by Willow Dawson, is a collection of fascinating biographical stories about ten women who've shaped the story of Canada. "Often relegated to the sidelines of history, the women highlighted in this book were performed feats that most people would never even dream of. You may not know their names now, but after reading their stories, you won’t soon forget them." This book is geared toward middle-grade readers, but readers of all ages will find much to discover in its pages. 

We're excited to share an excerpt from the story of Alice Freeman, the Toronto school teacher who led a double life...

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Alice Freeman

February 1888 Toronto, Ontario

Though the students at Ryerson School loved Miss Freeman, none of them knew her secret. At the end of the day, when they went home to their chores and their beds, she became Faith Fenton, investigative reporter for the Empire newspaper in Toronto, Ontario. She spent her nights doing things that surely no teacher would do—like interviewing famous actresses or visiting jails and homeless shelters, before walking home alone down dark city streets in the early hours of the morning. By the time her students arrived back at school, Miss Freeman was standing …

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25 Books for International Women's Day

The lives of girls and women are as varied and fascinating as those of any group of people, as demonstrated by this diverse collection of titles worth celebrating for International Women's Day, books on women's history, suffrage, reproductive experiences, memoir, menstrual cycles, athletics, and so much more—including cocktails. Cheers! 

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Through, Not Around: Stories of Infertility and Pregnancy Loss, edited by Allison McDonald Ace; Ariel Ng Bourbonnais & Caroline Starr

About the book: Infertility and pregnancy loss can be devastating, yet both are often private sorrows for the one in six people who cope with the experience. This collection offers personal stories about what it's like to go through the emotional and physical facets of infertility, miscarriage, and pregnancy loss: the pain, sadness, and desperation, the hope, humour, and frustration.

Through, Not Around offers reassurance to those in the midst of their own struggles that they are not alone and that it is possible to find acceptance and strength on the other side of grief. The way forward is by going through the grief, not around it.

Allison McDonald Ace, Ariel Ng Bourbonnais, and Caroline Starr are co-founders of The 16 Percent, a website dedicated to sharing stories of pregnancy loss and infert …

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The Chat with Nilofar Shidmehr

Nilofar Shidmehr

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Nilofar Shidmehr’s short fiction collection, Divided Loyalties (Astoria/House of Anansi) is a rich and compelling collection of stories focusing on the lives of women in Iran and the diaspora.

In a blurb for the book, Marina Nemat, author of Prisoner of Tehran, says, “Iran is a complicated country with thousands of years of history. In Divided Loyalties, with a deft hand, Nilofar Shidmehr takes us through the suffering of its people over the last four decades. An important book that sheds light on how a people can survive their darkest years.”

Nilofar Shidmehr is a poet, essayist, and scholar, and the author of six books in English and Farsi, including Between Lives and Shirin and Salt Man, a BC Book Prize finalist. She writes and delivers lectures on women’s rights, migration and diaspora, and social and political issues in Iran. A specialist in literature and cinema of modern Iran, she teaches in the Continuing Studies program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, where she lives with her husband.

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The Chat with Nilofar Shidmehr

Tr …

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Lost in the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold

Everything old is new again in this wide-ranging list of recent books (and one forthcoming) that play with tropes and imagery from fairy tales, often with a feminist bent. So by all means, Canadian authors: venture into the woods! There's still so much more there to be discovered.

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Hysteria, by Elisabeth da Mariaffi

Check out de Mariaffi's list, "8 Female Protagonists Who Don't Have Time For Your Sh*t"

About the book: Heike Lerner’s life looks perfect from the outside: she’s settled into an easy routine of caring for her young son, Daniel, and spends her days wandering the woods near their summer house, while her nights are filled with clinking glasses and charming conversation. It all helps to keep her mind at ease—or at least that’s what her husband, Eric, tells her. But lately, Heike’s noticed there are some things out of place: a mysterious cabin set back in the trees and a strange little girl who surfaces alone at the pond one day, then disappears—while at home Eric is becoming increasingly more controlling. Something sinister that Heike cannot quite put her finger on is lingering just beneath the surface of this idyllic life.

It’s possible Heike’s worries are all in her head, but when the unthinkable happens—Daniel vanishes while she and E …

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Elizabeth Renzetti on SHREWED

Shrewed is the book we've all been waiting for, a brilliant collection of essays about the lives of girls and women that is as hilarious and heart-wrenching as it is heart-warming, a book that will make you first want to call your mother, and then go out and organize a feminist parade down the middle of your street. Elizabeth Renzetti is best known for her much-loved columns in the Globe and Mail, and she's also author of the bestselling novel Based on a True Story. Here, she talks to 49th Shelf about humour, swearing, and the pleasures of reading.

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49th Shelf: You write about the genesis of your book, how the idea for an essay collection came about in the aftermath of the 2016 American election. How is the finished product different from your initial vision for the collection? What parts about the process surprised you?

Elizabeth Renzetti: I hope it’s funnier than I thought it would be! Those were dark days at the end of 2016. A poisonously misogynistic man had been elected to the most powerful position in the world, over a woman who had vastly more experience and intellectual ability, but who didn’t smile enough, apparently. Or possibly she smiled too much—I’ve lost track. As I wrote the essays, I realized that making myself laugh also lifted my spiri …

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NevertheLIST, she persisted: 8 female protagonists who don’t have time for your sh*t

Book Cover Hysteria

Elisabeth de Mariaffi's new novel Hysteria is a book in which nothing is what it seems, not the perfect summer setting, the safe and caring marriage, the happy family, or the stories Heike tells about the trauma in her past. This isn't your run-of-the-mill unreliable narrator though, and de Mariaffi pulls off the tricky feat of both keeping the reader from being sure of who Heike really is and also establishing something solid at her core. Heike is steely, courageous, and to be messed with at one's own peril.

In this list, de Mariaffi counts down other amazing books whose protagonists who don't have time for your sh*t. 

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8) Girl Runner, by Carrie Anne Snyder

Aganetha Smart is a girl who likes to move…fast. See if you can keep up, speed queen. (Uh, you can’t.)

About the book: 

An unforgettable novel about competition, ambition, and a woman's struggle to earn a place in a man's world, Girl Runner is the story of 1928 Olympic gold medalist Aganetha Smart. Will Aganetha’s undeniable talent help her to outrun the social conventions of her time, or …

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