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Exploring Sister Bonds

One of our most anticipated debuts of the season, Bryn Turnbull's The Woman Before Wallis, tells the true story of the American divorcée who captured Prince Edward’s heart before he abdicated his throne for Wallis Simpson. But it's also the story of a pair of sisters, and in her recommended reading list for us, Turnbull explores other titles that illuminate this bond.

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The bonds between sisters can be loving, fraught, conflicted, and challenging—often, they’re all four at once. Compared to books about brothers, sister bonds may seem like a seldom-explored familial bond, but as the books below show, they’re an incredible source of inspiration for authors and readers alike.

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The Quintland Sisters, by Shelley Wood

The Dionne Quintuplets were a media sensation in the 1930s—the first five identical sisters to survive past birth, they were a symbol of optimism in depression-era North America, so much so that thousands of visitors would flock to North Bay to see the girls in their purpose-built nursery-cum-tourist-attraction. As doctors, politi …

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Launchpad: The War Widow, by Tara Moss

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 The War Widow, by Tara Moss, described as "Retro noir with a gutsy heroine and atmospheric setting...vivid, page-turning historical crime."

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

The war may be officially over, but stylish private investigator and former war reporter Billie Walker is plunged right back into the danger she thought she’d left behind in Europe, in this thrilling tale set in glamorous 1940s Sydney.

Describe your ideal reader.

Anyone who loves a good …

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The Chat with Laisha Rosnau

What happens when an author decides to create a novel based on the real lives of three reclusive women in early twentieth century BC? That’s the premise of Laisha Rosnau’s intriguing new novel, Little Fortress (Buckrider/Wolsak & Wynn).

In a starred review, Quill & Quire says “Rosnau has done a masterful job of using the lives of historical figures as the building blocks of a stunning work of fiction ...The narrative is utterly spellbinding.” 

Laisha Rosnau is the author of the best-selling novel, The Sudden Weight of Snow, and four collections of poetry, most recently, Our Familiar Hunger, recipient of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Her first collection, Notes on Leaving, was the recipient of the Acorn-Plantos Poetry Prize and her work has been nominated for several awards, including the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Pat Lowther Award, and three times for CBC literary awards. Rosnau teaches at UBC Okanagan, and she and her family are resident caretakers of Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary where they live in Coldstream, BC.

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Trevor Corkum: Little Fortress follows the real-life story of three women living in exile in Vernon, BC, in the middle of the last century. Why was it so important for you to tell this story? And why explore it through fic …

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Journeys to Exile

Little Fortress is Laisha Rosnau's long-awaited second novel, following on acclaimed and award-winning poetry collections. In Little Fortress, Rosnau bases her fiction on real-life figures, Italian nobility escaping fascism in the 1930s and finding exile in Vernon, BC. With this recommended reading list, she suggests books that have informed and/or are akin to her own work. 

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Book Cover Caetani

Recapitulation: A Journey, by Sveva Caetani, edited by Heidi Thompson, Angela Gibbs Peart, and Dennis Butler

This is a beautiful, hardcover coffee table-sized book with gorgeous full-colour reproductions of Sveva Caetani’s 56 large, luminous watercolour paintings—“Recapitulation”—the series in which she portrayed her own life’s geographical, artistic, and spiritual journey. Based loosely on Dante’s Divine Comedy, the paintings are completely unique and utterly arresting. As well as reproductions of the paintings, the book contains original poetry of Caetani’s, notes and translations, and a short biography. Recapitulation is the way I was introduced to the stran …

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Jo Walton: 5 Stories Bound Up with History

 You've never read a historical treatment quite like a Jo Walton novel, which tend to leapfrog across and between genres in the most exciting way. Her latest is Lent, set in 15th-century Florence, and in this reading list, she recommends other books in which story and history are interwoven, a list whose eclecticism demonstrates the way fascinating way in which Walton's mind works to connect disparate things. 

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Book Cover One Way Street

Marian Engel's Monodromos or One Way Street (1973) is about a Canadian woman in Greece in the 1950s, dealing with her own past, with the historical past, with the uneasy cultural relationship between Europe and Canada, with the question of love, and with a quest to find the icon of the saint with the head of a dog. I first read it when I was working in Greece between school and university, and I have loved it ever since. It's feminist but set before second wave feminism, and it's a book that's revelatory of many layers of history, including the time it was written.

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Erin Frances Fisher: The Pleasure of Details

That Tiny Life is the debut from Erin Frances Fisher, winner of the 2014 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, and was published earlier this year to rave reviews. In this reading list, she recommends books by authors who love good historical details just as much as she does. 

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Writing the stories in That Tiny Life took a lot of research—more research than I was used to—and this process surprised me by being incredibly fun. 

Some of that research was easier to access: my sister is a falconer and let me tag along when she went rabbit hunting with her hawk, and as a young kid I lived in Inuvik, NWT. Astronauts on the International Space Station livestream videos from space, and I found everything I needed about Civil War amputation via era-enthusiasts’ blogs and articles. 

The story that took the most time was “Da Capo al Fine,” set in Revolutionary Paris. I spent a lot of time virtually wandering Versailles and Paris using online maps’ street-view functions. Palaces that are now museums have displays on newspapers, parties and gambling, clothing, and the river baths. I also went to the library at the local university and took out a pile of books on harpsichord and pianoforte builders knowing that I was going to write about the switch of prominen …

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Dazzle Patterns: The Books Behind the Book

A poet and non-fiction writer, Alison Watt makes a splendid debut as a novelist with Dazzle Patterns, a beautiful and vivid novel set against the backdrop of the Halifax Explosion. In this list, Watt shares the books behind the book, the works she drew on to bring her historical period to life. 

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Dazzle Patterns begins in Halifax, on the day of its famous Explosion. The novel follows the stories of three people, whose lives are braided together: Clare, a flaw checker at a glass factory, Leo, her fiancé  fighting in France, and Fred, a German immigrant and master glassmaker at the factory.

Both Clare and Fred begin studies at the Victoria School of Art, under the direction of Arthur Lismer, who would go on to be a member of the Group of Seven, and found a new school of Canadian painting. Leo is captured and held behind German lines.

The novel is as much about art as war and the following books speak these two themes, as well as the historic Halifax explosion. Their riches lie among the everyday details buried in text and photos, which I could draw on to try to bring that faraway time and place to life for the modern reader.

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Elephants, Bears and Birds: Animals in Canadian Literature

Book Cover Hunting Piero

The latest by Wendy MacIntyre, whose books for young people include the acclaimed Apart, is Hunting Piero, a novel that moves between the 15th-century and the present day to blend issues of art and animal rights activism.  

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The young activists and the Renaissance painter in my novel believe animals contribute immeasurably to our lives, aesthetically, emotionally and spiritually, and they are dedicated to protecting them from harm.

It was a pleasure to revisit the following Canadian novels that make the lives and fates of animals and birds, and human/animal relations, central to their storylines. 

Last of the Curlews, by Fred Bodsworth

This moving elegy to a bird nearly extinct after centuries of callous human slaughter follows the journey of a lone curlew in search of a mate and a fellow member of his species. Bodsworth takes us inside the curlew’s experience as he braves North Atlantic gales and hunters on his 9,000-mile migratory flight from the Arctic to Patagonia. Verbatim excerpts from scientific reports document how hunters killed hundreds o …

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Reading England in Through Historical Fiction

In The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood, A.E. Chandler reimagines the story of Robin Hood for the twenty-first century reader, and in this fantastic list of historical fiction from England, she recommends great books that vividly bring history to life. 

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The Eagle and the Raven, by Pauline Gedge

After her husband’s death, Boudicca leads a great rebellion against Claudius and the Roman Empire. As the warrior queen of the Iceni, her power extends throughout what is now Norfolk, and farther. Leading the Celtic Britons, she fights for freedom in a struggle that stretches beyond herself, through three generations.

Book Cover the Magnificent Century

The Magnificent Century, by Thomas B. Costain

Costain’s The Magnificent Century follows the reign of King Henry III, from 1216 and the clash surrounding the Magna Carta, through years of building and rebellion, until Henr …

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Historical Fiction to Read This Spring

An excellent crop of historical fiction is being published by Canadian authors this spring, and we recommend these titles not just because of how they exemplify the best of the genre, but also for how they play with it, and with our notions of both history and fiction—making the past come to life and illuminating the present. 

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The Widow's Fire, by Paul Butler (JUNE)

About the book: The Widow's Fire explores the shadow side of Jane Austen's final novel Persuasion, disrupting its happy ending and throwing moral certainties off balance. We join the action close to the moment when Austen draws away for the last time and discretely gives an overview of the oncoming marriage between heroine Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. This, it transpires in The Widow's Fire, is merely the beginning of a journey. Soon dark undercurrents disturb the order and symmetry of Austen's world. The gothic flavor of the period, usually satirized by Austen, begins to assert itself. Characters far below the notice of Anne, a baronet's daughter, have agendas of their own. Before long, we enter into the realm of scandal and blackmail. Anne Elliot must come to recognize the subversive power of those who have been hitherto invisible to her—servants, maids and attendants—before she can d …

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The Chat With 2016 Giller Finalist Emma Donoghue

emma-donoghue-2013

Next up in this year’s Giller Prize special, generously sponsored by Publishing@SFU, is Emma Donoghue, author of the haunting novel The Wonder. Donoghue’s book centres around the story of a young girl in the middle of nineteenth-century Ireland who refuses to eat, believing she is sustained by God’s will alone.

Emma Donoghue was born in Dublin in 1969 and lived in England for many years before moving to Canada. She writes in many genres, including theatre, radio drama, and literary history, but is best known for her fiction, both historical (Slammerkin, The Sealed Letter, Astray, Frog Music) and contemporary (Stir-fry, Hood, Landing, Touchy Subjects). Her seventh novel, Room, won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Canada and Caribbean region) and was shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prizes. It sold over two million copies. Donoghue scripted the film adaptation by Lenny Abrahamson, starring Brie Larson, which won the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival Grolsch People’s Choice Award.

TheChat-Giller-2016

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Quick Hits: Historical Fiction for Tweens and Teens

In Quick Hits, we look through our stacks to bring you books that, when they were published, elicited a lot of reaction and praise. Our selections will include books published this year, last year, or any year. They will be from any genre. The best books are timeless, and they deserve to find readers whenever and wherever.

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The Hangman in the Mirror, by Kate Cayley

Genre: Young Adult (age 12+), Historical Fiction

Publisher: Annick Press

What It's About

Françoise Laurent has never had an easy life. The only surviving child of a destitute washerwoman and wayward soldier, she must rely only on herself to get by. When her parents die suddenly from the smallpox ravishing New France (modern-day Montreal), Françoise sees it as a chance to escape the life she thought she was trapped in.

Seizing her newfound opportunity, Françoise takes a job as an aide to the wife of a wealthy fur trader. The poverty-ridden world she knew transforms into a strange new world full of privilege and fine things—and of never having to beg for food. But Françoise’s relationships with the other servants in Madame Pommereau’s house are tenuous, and Madame Pommereau isn’t an easy woman to work for. When Françoise is caught stealing a pair of her mistress’s beautiful gloves, she faces a …

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