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Struggling Through Pandemonium

(We've got Donna Morrissey's memoir Pluck is up for giveaway right now! Don't miss your chance to enter to win.)

While writing Pluck I was drawn to the stories of others struggling through pandemonium and learning to quieten its crazed babel. We all have a have memoir in us, we talk it out every time we sit with family, friends or shrinks, trying to make sense of whatever the hell just happened back there, and why’s it still happening.

We find patterns of behaviour in all of us, and in our relationships and workplaces and the towns we live in.  We are all living out the stories of our ancestors going back thousands of years. Which is why I varied my reading to include more objective works as well as personal memoir. God knows, we need all the help we can in navigating this terrible wonderful life bestowed upon us.  

These are only some of the books from which I learned of new questions to ask, and found answers to those I hadn’t thought of asking.

*****

Care Of: Letters, Connections, and Cures, by Ivan Coyote

As deep as it is poignant, Care Of is a co …

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Books to Inspire

My grandfather, the late Senator Calvin Ruck, was a storyteller. He’s also one of the most inspirational men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. Amazing Black Atlantic Canadians: Inspiring Stories of Courage and Strength was born out of a desire to share some of those stories that he told me as a young girl (including his own). They are stories of courage, strength, hope, and overcoming the odds to do great things.

The following recommended reading list features books that have inspired me to push harder, to dream bigger, and most importantly, to love myself entirely as I am. The titles range from simple children’s picture books to gritty memoirs that put it all on the page and leave you energized to kick up the dust, to take on the world, and to do away with the status quo. The power of the written word is quite remarkable, and I’m so grateful these authors have chosen words that have, and will continue to, inspire so many. 

 

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The following recommended reading list features books that have inspired me to push harder, to dream bigger, and most importantly, to love myself entirely as I am.

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Dazzling Memoirs

In my book on memoir, Memoir: Conversations and Craft, I had the great good fortune of interviewing seven distinguished Canadian writers who have written memoirs. They were my “dream team” of authors, chosen because I admire their writing and referred to them often when I taught memoir workshops. With luck, I thought half of the group would say yes to my request of an interview to be included in my book. To my delight, all seven said yes.

I heartily recommend their memoirs.

BONUS: Enter to win a copy of Memoir: Conversations and Craft at our giveaways page!

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Writing Style and Focus

Causeway: A Passage From Innocence, by Linden MacIntyre

Can a writer be both punchy and elegant? Yes, they can. I have always enjoyed Linden MacIntyre’s writing style. I read Causeway: A Passage From Innocence, MacIntyre’s "hauntingly bittersweet memoir of home, fathers and sons, and the bridge between dreams and demons,” when I had been living in Cape Breton for about ten years. I couldn’t put the book down. It appealed to me as a "Caper-in-training" (how I ref …

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A Taster: Spring 2021 Nonfiction Preview

Life stories, family, baseball, and retreat. These highlight the nonfiction we're most looking forward to this spring,

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Her Name Was Margaret (February), by Denise Davy

About the book: Margaret Jacobson was a sweet-natured young girl who played the accordion and had dreams of becoming a teacher until she had a psychotic break in her teens, which sent her down a much darker path. Her Name Was Margaret traces Margaret's life from her childhood to her death as a homeless woman on the streets of Hamilton, Ontario. With meticulous research and deep compassion author Denise Davy analyzed over 800 pages of medical records and conducted interviews with Margaret's friends and family, as well as those who worked in psychiatric care, to create this compelling portrait of a woman abandoned by society.

Through the revolving door of psychiatric admissions to discharges to rundown boarding homes, Davy shows us the grim impact of deinstutionalization: patients spiralled inexorably toward homelessness and death as psychiatric beds were closed and patients were left to fend for themselves on the streets of cities across North America. Today there are more 235,000 people in Canada who are counted among the homeless annually and 35,000 who are homeless on any given night. Most of t …

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Launchpad: TIFF: A LIFE OF TIMOTHY FINDLEY, by Sherrill Grace

Launchpad Logo

Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.

LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.

Today Andrew Pyper is recommending new biography Tiff: A Life of Timothy Findley, by Sherrill Grace.

Pyper writes: “Tiff is a biography of becoming. Timothy Findley was a writer, but one who arrived at the vocation by way of the stage, a storyteller who shifted from the speaking of others’ words to the crafting of his own. Sherrill Grace brings thoughtful attention to both the man and the work, the latter of which notably marked the national literature by its particular obsessions and inventions.”

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Book Cover Tiff

49th Shelf: What particular thing have you achieved with this book of which you are especially proud? 

Sherrill Grace: I believe I have brought Timothy Findley to public atten …

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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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Radical Acts: An Interview with Andrea Warner

Andrea Warner follows up her fantastic debut, We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the ’90s and Changed Canadian Music, with Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography, and here she talks to us about the challenges of biography, chronology, and the experience of working with a music legend. 

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49th Shelf: “My God, how does one write a Biography?” wrote Virginia Woolf once, and she’s just one of many writers who’ve struggled with the genre. I imagine it’s a bit easier, however, when you’ve got the person you’re writing about telling stories down the telephone and reading over your manuscript, offering clarity and answering questions. Do you think you could have written this book without Buffy Sainte-Marie being a partner in the project? Would you have wanted to? 

Andrea Warner: I wouldn’t have done this without Buffy’s consent and support. Her voice is essential and so powerful. This is her life story and she doesn’t really need me to do tell it. She’s Buffy Sainte-Marie, she’s an amazing storyteller. But what I can do as a writer and as a feminist music critic who has spent years writing about Buffy’s music and the music business is provide a framework for her story and contextualize her journey so far. 

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She’s Buffy Sainte-Marie, …

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11 Life Stories To Read This Spring

This assortment of memoir, biography, and autobiography brings real life to the page, and into the minds of readers. 

*****

Homes: A Refugee Story, by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung

About the book: In 2010, the al Rabeeah family left their home in Iraq in hope of a safer life. They moved to Homs, in Syria—just before the Syrian civil war broke out.

Abu Bakr, one of eight children, was ten years old when the violence began on the streets around him: car bombings, attacks on his mosque and school, firebombs late at night. Homes tells of the strange juxtapositions of growing up in a war zone: horrific, unimaginable events punctuated by normalcy—soccer, cousins, video games, friends.

Homes is the remarkable true story of how a young boy emerged from a war zone—and found safety in Canada—with a passion for sharing his story and telling the world what is truly happening in Syria. As told to her by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah, writer Winnie Yeung has crafted a heartbreaking, hopeful, and urgently necessary book that provides a window into understanding Syria.

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Book Cover The Never Ending Present

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20 Life Stories Rocking Our World This Spring

This month we're curling up in our proverbial chairs with life stories, biography and memoir, stories that run the gamut and take you all over Canada and beyond. Here are twenty compelling life stories that are rocking our world this spring. 

*****

I Hear She's a Real Bitch, by Jen Agg

About the book: Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg, the woman behind the popular The Black Hoof, Cocktail Bar, Rhum Corner, and Agrikol restaurants, is known for her frank, crystal-sharp and often hilarious observations and ideas on the restaurant industry and the world around her. I Hear She's a Real Bitch, her first book, is caustic yet intimate, and wryly observant; an unforgettable glimpse into the life of one of the most interesting, smart, trail-blazing voices of this moment.

Why we're taking notice: More books about kick-ass, talented women, please. This book is getting so much buzz. 

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The Unfinished Dollhouse, by Michelle Alfano 

About the book: No mother is prepared for the moment when a child comes out to her as a person whose physical gender is out-of-keeping with his e …

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