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Shelf Talkers: White Magic in the 1800s, Rock in the 90s, and the World in 1979

For a lot of Canadians, this can be a rough time of year. The stretch of late January and early February, characterized by cold temperatures and mostly grey days, can induce a wintery funk. Sure, there may be a bit of skiing, skating, or walks on those rare days when Canada’s much-loved natural world isn’t actively trying to kill you, but there’s a certain glumness to the air. The unbridled optimism (and hangovers) of the new year are behind us, and we’re left with, well, hangovers from the unbridled optimism. Spring is on the horizon, but it seems so far away.

There is a respite, though.

This is the perfect time of year to lose yourself in a good book.

Think about it: curled up under a fluffy duvet, a steaming beverage close to hand, maybe some music playing, a bit of sun creeping in through the blinds, a new favourite book... Doesn’t that sound lovely?


Think about it: curled up under a fluffy duvet, a steaming beverage close to hand, maybe some music playing, a bit of sun creeping in through the blinds, a new favourite book... Doesn’t that sound lovely?


The hardy booksellers of our Shelf Talker panel certainly think so. They’ve weighed in with some picks perfect for winter reading, those warm hygge holidays that will see us through until the daffodils start to pop up.

And remember, it doesn’t stop here. The next time you’re out, duck into an independent bookstore and ask what the booksellers are reading. They’re eager to share!


The Bookseller: Shelley Macbeth, Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)

The Pick: The Witches of New York, by Ami McKay

If you're a fan of The Birth House or The Virgin Cure, it won't be difficult to persuade you to pick up The Witches of New York, Ami McKay's latest. But even if you haven’t experienced an Ami McKay novel, you will be swiftly drawn into her world of witchcraft in 1880s New York. Set against some fascinating Gotham history, the story follows three wise women navigating a "woman's place" in the latter decades of the 1800s. Interspersed in this historical narrative are lovely dashes and dollops of witchcraft (white magic, of course). The last 150 pages propel you to the wonderful (and somewhat open-ended) ending. Is there a sequel in store? Thanks, Ami!


The Bookseller: Colin Holt, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)

The Pick: Dirty Windshields, by Grant Lawrence

Dirty Windshields is the ultimate do-it-yourself rock band tale. It is the type of book that will both make you wish you really had formed that rock band you dreamed about and ultimately be thankful that you didn’t and that Lawrence did the work for you. Filled with his self-deprecating wit, Dirty Windshields is a highly enjoyable read, made better when experienced with some 90s rock in the background and a can of Black Label beside you.


The Bookseller: Mary-Ann Yazedjian, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)

The Pick: The Hanging Girl, by Eileen Cook

The Hanging Girl is an excellent psychological thriller for teens by Vancouver author Eileen Cook! Tarot-card–reading Skye has gotten in over her head when she helps popular girl Paige "go missing" in order to collect part of the ransom. What will she do when things go horribly wrong? This is an edge-of-your-seat kind of book with twists you'll never see coming. Great for teens and adults alike.


The Bookseller: Chadwick Ginther of University of Manitoba Bookstore (Winnipeg, Manitoba)

The Pick: Godless But Loyal to Heaven, by Richard Van Camp

Richard Van Camp's collection, Godless but Loyal to Heaven, is full of stories where myth, fantasy, and the harsh realities of Canada's North intersect. The book can be bloody, cathartic, and bleak, but is ultimately hopeful. Joy, love, humour, and aspirations for better times shine through this consummate storyteller's work.


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

The Pick: 1979, by Ray Robertson

I'm always on board for a new Ray Robertson novel, and one wonders what will have to happen for him to get to the front rank of Canadian writing, as he so richly deserves.

1979 (to be published in March) opens with Tom Buzby—a nondescript thirteen-year-old newspaper delivery boy in Chatham, Ontario—who has a quirk in his past that makes him the de facto secret-keeper for many of the town's more colourful characters.
When Tom was six, he died. Or, more accurately, he was resuscitated in a sewer after a beloved superball got away from him.

His newspapers are full-to-bursting with new politics afoot in the form of Brian Mulroney, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. As I was also 13 in 1979, I found a lot to like in Robertson's novel. It turns out we were both presciently despondent on the political turns of the day, but that's another subject.

Ray has a light touch; writes clean, punchy sentences; and has a musicality and movement in his prose that is a singular gift. I'll drop pretty much anything to read whatever he writes.


January 29, 2018
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