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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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25 Reasons to be Hopeful

In difficult times, sometimes hope is maligned as something frivolous, a symptom of one's inability to engage with reality and look trouble in the face. But of course, the certainty of hopeless is its own kind of limitation. As Rebecca Solnit writes, "To me, the grounds for hope are simply that we don’t know what will happen next, and that the unlikely and the unimaginable transpire quite regularly.”

The following books are infused with hope—that what we do and who we are really matters, that second chances are possible, and so too is a better world.

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This is Not the End of Me, by Dakshana Bascaramurty

About the book: Layton Reid was a globe-trotting, risk-taking, sunshine-addicted bachelor—then came a melanoma diagnosis. Cancer startled him out of his arrested development--he returned home to Halifax to work as a wedding photographer—and remission launched him into a new, passionate life as a husband and father-to-be. When the melanoma returned, now at Stage IV, Layton and his family put all their stock into a punishing alternative therapy, hoping for a cure. This Is Not the End of Me recounts Layton's three-year journey as he tried desperately to stay alive for his young son, Finn, and then found purpose in preparing Finn for a world without him.

Wit …

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5 Books for World Alzheimer's Month

In fiction and nonfiction, these authors whose lives have been touched by Alzheimer's Disease bear witness and weave stories about the complexity of memory, identity, and love.

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Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's, by Marion Agnew

About the book: Most people think Alzheimer's Disease is the same as memory loss, if they think about it at all. But most people prefer to ignore it, hoping that if they ignore it hard enough, it will go away. That was certainly Marion Agnew's hope, even after she knew her mother's diagnosis. Yet, with her mother's diagnosis, Marion's world changed. Her mother—a Queen's and Harvard/Radcliffe-educated mathematician, a nuclear weapons researcher in Montreal during Word War II, an award-winning professor and researcher for five decades, wife of a history professor, and mother of five—began drifting away from her. To keep hold of her, to remember her, she began paying attention, and began writing what she saw. She wrote as her mother became suspicious on outings, as she lost even the simplest of words, as she hallucinated, as she became frightened and agitated. But after her mother's death, Marion wanted to honour the time of her mother's life in which she had the disease, but she didn't want the illness to domin …

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Most Anticipated: Our 2020 Fall Nonfiction Preview

We're looking forward to books about history, true crime, memoir, nature, music, dance, food, and so much more. There's something for everyone looking for fantastic nonfiction in Fall 2020.

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Wish You Were Here: A Murdered Girl, a Brother's Quest and the Hunt for a Serial Killer (September), by John Allore and Patricia Pearson, is the story of a brother’s lifelong determination to find the truth about his sister’s death, a police force that was ignoring the cases of missing and murdered women, and, to the surprise of everyone involved, a previously undiscovered serial killer. Barbara Amiel’s memoir Friends and Enemies (October) is not a book of vengeance (though that this needs to be denied is intriguing!) but an attempt to find her own truth: a life that reads like a novel. Jann Arden—bestselling author, recording artist and late-blooming TV star—is back with If I Knew Then (October), a funny, heartfelt and fierce memoir on becoming a woman of a certain age. And Bill Arnott guides readers on an epic literary odyssey following history’s most feared and misunderstood voyageurs in Gone Viking (September).

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Launchpad: On Nostalgia, by David Berry

Book Cover On Nostalgia

Today we're launching David Berry's book On Nostalgia, a history of nostalgia—which is no small thing! Tobias Carroll writes at Literary Hub, "[Berry] pulls off the impressive feat of covering plenty of ground in a concise and compelling manner."

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

It’s a cultural history of nostalgia, an examination of why and how we’re so ceaselessly drawn back.

Describe your ideal reader.

Someone who has never met a Wikipedia hole they couldn’t fall in.

What authors/books is your work in conversation with?

Among others, I’d hope it’s in conversation with writers like FT Marinetti, Jaron Lanier, Eric Hobsbawm, Barbara Tuchman, Steven Pinker, Bill Bryson and every tech CEO who has written a thinkpiece or memoir, although I would certainly not claim that all those conversations are polite or respectful.

What is something interesting you learned about your book/ yourself/ your subject during the process of creating and publishing your book?

I learned that when left to my own devices, my nostalgic thoughts tend to turn towards chocolate chip cookies. Also, I went from someone who was pretty deeply suspicious of nostalgia in general to someone who is deeply suspicious of the ways it’s used against us and profoundly …

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Exploring Indigenous History

June is Indigenous History Month, a great opportunity to celebrate some of our favourite books over the years, along with links to great interviews, excerpts, image galleries, and more.

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Injun, by Jordan Abel

Explore the Griffin Poetry Prize Chat with Jordan Abel

About the book: Award-winning Nisga’a poet Jordan Abel’s third collection, Injun, is a long poem about racism and the representation of indigenous peoples. Composed of text found in western novels published between 1840 and 1950 – the heyday of pulp publishing and a period of unfettered colonialism in North America—Injun then uses erasure, pastiche, and a focused poetics to create a visually striking response to the western genre.

After compiling the online text of 91 of these now public-domain novels into one gargantuan document, Abel used his word processor’s “Find” function to search for the word “injun.” The 509 results were used as a study in context: How was this word deployed? What surrounded it? What was left over once that word was removed? Abel then cut up the sentences into clusters of three to five words and rearranged them into the long poem that is Injun. The book contains the poem as well as peripheral material that will help the reader to replicate, intuitively, some of …

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Launchpad: Sea Otters, by Isabelle Groc

Launchpad Logo

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 Sea Otters: A Survival Story, by Isabelle Groc, which no less than Dame Judi Dench calls "an important story, one that gives us hope...Young people will be encouraged to see that positive change can happen, and that we can all do something to help preserve our planet."

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Book Cover SEa Otters a Survival Story

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

Sea Otters: A Survival Story, illustrated with my photographs, looks at the history, biology, behaviour and uncertain future of sea otters, their journey from …

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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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Spring 2020 Books: What's Trending?

Halfway through our preview of books from the first half of 2020 (check out our Fiction Preview and our Nonfiction Preview, and stay tuned for Poetry coming this week...) and here are some of the trends we're noticing.

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Bigfoot

The Wild Heavens, by Sarah Butler (March)

About the book: It all starts with an impossibly large set of tracks, footprints for a creature that could not possibly exist. The words sasquatch, bigfoot and yeti never occur in this novel, but that is what most people would call the hairy, nine-foot creature that would become a lifelong obsession for Aidan Fitzpatrick, and in turn, his granddaughter Sandy Langley.

The novel spans the course of single winter day, interspersed with memories from Sandy’s life—childhood days spent with her distracted, scholarly grandfather in a remote cabin in British Columbia’s interior mountains; later recollections of new motherhood; and then the tragic disappearance that would irrevocably shape the rest of her life, a day when all signs of the mysterious creature would disappear for thirty years. When the enigmatic tracks finally reappear, Sandy sets out on the trail alone, determined to find out the truth about the mystery that has shaped her life.

The Wild Heavens is an impressive and evocative debut, con …

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Great Companions: Because Two Books Are Better than One

As fascinating as books themselves are the connections between books, the curious ways in which books inform and echo each other, creating strange synergies completely outside their authors' purview. In celebration of these connections, we've paired recent Canadian books of note, creating ideal literary companions. Because the only thing better than a book you can't wait to read is TWO of them. 

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To Speak for the Trees, by Diana Beresford-Kroeger and Treed, by Ariel Gordon

Poetry and botany meet in these two books that celebrate the wonder and awesomeness of trees. 

About To Speak for the TreesWhen Diana Beresford-Kroeger—whose father was a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and whose mother was an O'Donoghue, one of the stronghold families who carried on the ancient Celtic traditions—was orphaned as a child, she could have been sent to the Magdalene Laundries. Instead, the O'Donoghue elders, most of them scholars and freehold farmers in the Lisheens valley in County Cork, took her under their wing. Diana became the last ward under the Brehon Law. Over the course of three summers, she was taught the ways of the Celtic triad of mind, body and soul. This included the philosophy of healing, the laws of the trees, Brehon wisdom and the Ogham alphabet, all o …

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9 Great Memoirs by Women

Tiny Lights for Travellers, by Naomi K. Lewis, is a memoir that travels across the world and into family history to make sense of the here and now. Writer Lauren B. Davis calls the book "an irresistibly wise, poignant, and often funny memoir, a spiral dance through time and space exploring memory, desire, the roots of family, race, and religion; as well as what it means to belong in one’s own skin." 

In this reading list, Lewis recommends others memoirs that have inspired her as a writer and as a reader.  

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Between Gods, by Alison Pick

Between Gods was published to great and deserved acclaim just as I was beginning work on Tiny Lights for Travellers. I was both inspired and intimidated: Pick’s family history and ambivalent Jewish identity were so like and yet entirely unlike my own. Intimidation aside, I was so grateful for Pick’s voice and her story. Her memoir reminded me to strive for honesty in my own when I was tempted to shy away from the undignified truth. And it reminded me, tragically and poignantly, that my own experience of the mult …

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