The Sun Down Motel, by Simone St. James (2020)

Mystery | Adult

The Sun Down Motel, by Simone St. James (2020)

Okay, I’ll admit it. The cover of this book caught my eye and made me want to pick it up. It was on a colleague’s desk, and I snuck a quick peek at the blurb. Intrigued, I added it to a lengthy TBR list, finally got to it this fall, and decided to listen to the story while working on a sewing project. It’s a super creepy ghost story that spans two timelines – 1982, when Viv Delaney is working the night shift at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, NY, hearing voices and seeing doors open and lights fail when there is no reason for any of it, and 2017, when Viv’s niece Carly comes to Fell to find out what happened to Viv nearly 35 years before. Because Viv disappeared one night, and her body was never found. Her sister, Carly’s mother, would never talk about it, and when her mother died, Carly decides to honour her by trying to find out what happened to Viv, and soon gets her own night shift spot at the Sun Down, where she begins to learn that Viv is one of several young women who were killed near the motel. The story alternates between the two protagonists, allowing the reader to decipher clues along with Carly as she gets closer to the truth, and to danger herself. The audiobook producers decided to have two narrators, Brittany Pressley and Kirsten Potter, voice the two female protagonists, Viv and Carly, and that really helps the listener. Carly’s story is told in present tense as well, which is another helpful device for tracking the timelines. The story is complicated, filled with surprises, creepy as hell, and heartbreaking in its portrayal of the carelessness of investigators who didn’t think a victim worthy of their best efforts. There are some great characters who appear in one or both storylines, and Viv’s courage in trying to find out who is killing young women deepens the reader’s investment in the story. It’s suspenseful and atmospheric, and I could hardly wait to get back to the story. And that cover! Still love it. My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library for including this book in its online digital collection, in both e-book and e-audiobook formats. You can also request it in print via interlibrary loan.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50484085

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The Tiny But Mighty Farm: Cultivating High Yields, Community, and Self-sufficiency From a Home Farm, by Jill Ragan (2023)

Nonfiction | Adult

The Tiny But Mighty Farm: Cultivating High Yields, Community, and Self-sufficiency From a Home Farm, by Jill Ragan (2023)

I’ve paired this gardening guide with Vegetable Garden Soil Science Made Easy. By comparison, this is an overview guide that will get most new gardeners started, and set a high bar for dreamers. Ragan is a young entrepreneur, a market gardener who has turned her interest in growing food for the family into a successful farm and online business. In this fairly slim volume (200 pages) loaded with gorgeous photos of greenery, food, and what appears to be a happy cadre of helpful children, she guides you through the process of developing a garden that maximizes food production whatever your space, feeding your family while nourishing your soul, and perhaps even making some money. The book is most useful for those starting their first food garden, but more experienced growers will find some helpful tips, and she offers thoughtful advice for those thinking of taking it up a notch, business-wise. The book is organized into seven chapters – Small-Farm Values; What Kind of Farmer and Gardener Do You Want to Be?; Grow With Purpose; Soil: The Health & Longevity of Your Farm; In-Ground, Raised Beds & Indoor Growing: Which Is Right for You?; Growing from Seed; Tools & Efficient Systems to Grow On; How Structures, High Tunnels and Greenhouses Help; and finally, Growing for Community: Turning your Tiny Farm Into a Business. The first two chapters set the stage and explain Ragan’s background and philosophy (a bit Martha Stewart-y, in my opinion); the real meat of the book starts in Chapter 3, where she explains the role of developing a plan so you can achieve your goals and maximize the space you have for a garden, whether that’s your urban lot or a small acreage. I really like her explanations of the purpose and value of everything from crop plans to succession planning, and the importance of understanding soil quality and how to amend it. There is a lot of step by step guidance and advice that will get most new gardeners and farmers started, and helpful them avoid costly mistakes She emphasizes the value of being organized and offers real-life examples of planting records, watering schedules, and more. Ragan devotes a good amount of space offering comparisons of different approaches – tunnels versus greenhouses, as one example – emphasizing there is no wrong choice, but there is likely a best one for each situation. The final chapter offers excellent advice in moving into the sale of your produce, and there is a nice concluding feature of several types of market gardeners. The index is quite good, I’m happy to say, and there is also a section for making your own notes. Overall, I think the book has a lot of value for new gardeners; wanna-be farmers will find it inspiring but it won’t meet their full information needs. My thanks to Cool Springs Press for the digital copy provided temporarily through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this title: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/61030574

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Vegetable Garden Soil Science Made Easy, by James Bright (2022)

Nonfiction | Adult

Vegetable Garden Soil Science Made Easy, by James Bright (2022)

I don’t have to tell you how big an impact inflation had on grocery prices; in my neck of the woods, it was especially evident on the produce shelves. (Meat too, but I don’t eat much of it.) It’s a joke that rings painfully true that the bank is offering loans for anyone who wants to buy a head of lettuce. Right? As a result, the grow-your-own-food movement is gaining huge momentum, and I’m sure it will continue in 2023, even as we are reassured that inflation will start to ease. It’s with that in mind that I picked up a digital copy of this nifty little resource. It appears to be self-published, but there is a kindle edition available on Amazon. The subtitle is what caught my attention: “Create a Soil Base for Abundant Harvests in Your Raised Bed, Container, or No-Dig Garden.” We’ve moved our garden bed from the east side to the south side of the house, both to make better use of the sun, and to keep it away from our energetic dog and her furry friends. This will be the first year we plant the four beds we’ve prepared; to maximize production and minimize work, they are a little over a metre wide and about seven metres long. After making the case that the soil is the food your plants will thrive or die on, Bright moves into the the meat of the book. There are sections on everything from soil aeration to texture, and Bright offers guidance on what home gardeners should be looking for, what they can do, and how to address problems. I’m not sure I’d call this “made easy” – to a non-scientist like me, Bright goes into fairly sophisticated detail about the construction of garden soil, from its rocky origins to the millions of bacteria and other microscopic creatures that make it fruitful for the home gardener. The best part, from my perspective, comes in the second half of the book, when he tackles No Dig Gardening and Raised Garden Beds. He explains how to grow vegetables in different beds, including containers, as well as composting tips, winter crops, and the coolest fall task of cleaning your garden called Chop and Drop. You chop up the leaves and plant bits and drop them where they stay and re-enrich that soil for next year. Love it! There were no images in the edition I had in hand, and no index, but there is a hyperlinked table of contents. There was a print version which I think is sold out; I hope it had some illustrations and graphics to help clarify some of the concepts. The kindle edition is under $7 Canadian, and this is the perfect time to study up on soil, while we wait for the seed catalogues to arrive. My thanks to BooksGoSocial for the digital reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/75412822

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Secret Lives, by Mark de Castrique (2022)

Thriller | Adult

I’m not sure how many might remember the Mrs. Pollifax series. I discovered her as a teenager, and for some reason she appealed to me, a 60-something retiree who tired of growing begonias and decided to approach the CIA to become a late-in-life spy. Through a series of misunderstandings, she’s sent on a mission, to Albania if I recall correctly, where she is soon taken hostage, but with her mature outlook, decides she might as well enjoy the situation. Talk about living in the moment. It was a powerful life lesson to me that I still draw on today, as I edge ever closer toward sixty-something myself. This mystery from veteran author de Castrique could be described as Mrs. Pollifax meets R.E.D.S. (the film featuring Helen Mirrin and Bruce Willis). Ethel Crestwater is 75 years old, a retired CIA agent who now runs a boarding house filled mostly with special agents, along with a young graduate student who is also her distant cousin. When one of her boarders is shot in front of the house, Jesse watches in astonishment as his petite, frail relative turns into a sharp, calculating and well-connected professional. Ethel recruits Jesse into helping her investigate the victim’s history, revealing a cross-jurisdictional case that suggests some unethical agents could be involved in his death. As the list of those they can trust diminishes, Ethel turns to loyal friends to solve the case. This is a fun, fast-paced and complex spy thriller involving several layers of law enforcement, an ultra-modern bitcoin plot, and plenty of technology as Ethel and Jesse investigate the murder, put together clues, and set traps for the bad guys while trying desperately to avoid getting killed themselves. There is also an interesting commentary on the barriers Ethel faced in her career, adding some depth to this fascinating character. I bet this is the first in a series, and I look forward to more. My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library for adding this entertaining spy thriller to its adult fiction collection.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60394833

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Sam, by Allegra Goodman (2023)

Fiction | 15-Adult

Sam, by Allegra Goodman (2023)

As promised, here is the second book tackling the challenges of growing up into womanhood. This is the first novel I’ve read by Allegra Goodman, but I will look for more. This is a terrific novel; it reminds me of Judy Blume’s work like Deenie and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. It’s poignant, nuanced, thoughtful, heartbreaking at times, and yet hopeful. It’s written in third person, in present tense throughout, giving it a documentary-like feel. Sam’s voice is authentic as Goodman chooses language that is appropriate to Sam’s age, and matures as she grows. The novel opens when Sam is seven years old, delighted to be spending a day with her magician father Mitchell. At the fair, Sam and her dad avoid the carnie games “because that’s how they get you.” Sam adores her father (the dreamer), even though he regularly disappears, and then suddenly reappears with promises to do better. Her mother Courtney is reliable, hardworking, and determined. She’s especially determined that Sam will do better for herself and go to college, an irritating refrain for Sam. Courtney juggles two jobs to pay the rent and feed Sam and her younger half-brother Noah, whom Sam loves. However, she actively dislikes Noah’s father Jack, but he is still the dad, and “that’s the way it is.” I loved Goodman’s technique of having Sam adopt parental commentary like that; it gives such a sense of how she is raised. When Mitchell introduces Sam to indoor rock climbing, she tackles it with enthusiasm and determination, making friends and joining a team as she grows stronger. As a teen, she falls hard for her climbing instructor, and when that doesn’t end well, she quits the sport, refusing to talk about why. As her father continues to disappoint, Sam turns her back on him, despite her mother’s pleas. I truly enjoyed this coming of age novel, watching Sam navigate her painful teen years, figure out who she is and what she wants from life. She stumbles both literally and figuratively as she balances her love for climbing and the outdoors and her mum’s constant reminders that she needs a career with good pay. Are these really mutually exclusive? Can you live your dream and still pay the bills? There’s a sweet romance, and a satisfying, hopeful conclusion that leaves a lot of questions, which I did like. I did want even more about the ninety-something Ann – there’s an entire story behind that character, I bet. My thanks to Dial Press for the digital reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59722217

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The Most Precious Substance on Earth, by Shashi Bhat (2021)

Contemporary Fiction | 16-Adult

The Most Precious Substance on Earth, by Shashi Bhat (2021)

Occasionally I find myself reading two or three quite similar books, one right after the other. This is the first of two coming of age novels about the dampening of a girl’s spirit as she grows into a woman. I think many of us think wistfully of our childhood confidence, wonder, and joy, and pensively examine our growing up years to see if we can identify just when they left, or at least were dampened. I specifically recall my late twenties, as I went through a pregnancy loss and my marriage faded away (there is no other way to describe it), as a time when I deliberately sought to recapture my lust for life that, in my memory, bracketed the terrible high school years. In this novel, Bhat mines those years and their impact on a Nova Scotian over 20 years of her life. Nina is 14 as the novel opens, crushing hard on her English teacher, immersed in popular culture, and exchanging jokes with her best friend Amy. It’s the late 1990s – before Columbine, before September 11, before #MeToo. But don’t expect any nostalgia for a gentler era. It ain’t happening. Nina’s exuberance with Amy steadily diminishes. Two things happen – her crush on Mr. McKenzie takes an unexpected turn, but Nina tells no one, not even Amy. Something is happening to Amy too, but Nina doesn’t ask. Meanwhile Nina’s Indo-Canadian parents keep trying to match her with South Asian boys who express no interest in her interests. Nina graduates from school, moves on campus to attend university, and even leaves the country to pursue a graduate degree. And every time she returns home, she is gently chastised for being “unsettled” (= married), a condition her mother insists she must rectify for her hardworking father to retire. The weight of expectations from her parents, her dates, her employer, her students coalesce into a heavy burden, and Nina longs for the exuberant self who, with Amy, blithely climbed the Wave sculpture on the Halifax waterfront. Slowly, though, Nina comes to terms with her own history, acknowledging that the experiences, both good and bad, shaped who she is today. It’s shaped her, for better or for worse, but she has come through it, she thinks as she mulls what she at 34 might say to her 14-year-old self. (She finally realizes that perhaps silence wasn’t the best move.) At times wistful and touching, often humourous, this is a slyly powerful commentary on what it is like to grow up as a girl and woman in Canada, dealing with assaults of every kind on your identity, yet knowing you are benefiting from plenty of privileges too. This novel was shortlisted for the 2022 Giller Prize. My thanks to the Grand Forks & District Public Library for adding this to its adult fiction collection. It’s an excellent choice for mature teen readers as well.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57700204

The Complete Book of Ground Covers: 4000 Plants that Reduce Maintenance, Control Erosion, and Beautify the Landscape, by Gary Lewis (2022)

Nonfiction | Adult

The Complete Book of Ground Covers: 4000 Plants that Reduce Maintenance, Control Erosion, and Beautify the Landscape (2022)

As the year closes and a new one starts, I find it’s the perfect time to explore garden books. Icy and treacherous conditions have plagued our area this week, so it’s a great chance to sit with this book and plan the new front yard with a xeriscape or near-xeriscape approach. Ground covers will be key to keeping the soil from parching in the summer heat, and I was thrilled to find this Canadian resource at our library. In addition to his expertise as a horticulturist, Lewis owns his own garden shop in Richmond, British Columbia, so he understands the challenges we face in our province – salty air on the coast, deer on the Island and here in Grand Forks, icy winter winds, wet coastal winters and intensely dry and hot Okanagan summers. How does one plant for such a difficult environment? Luckily each of us has only a couple of these challenges. In my case, it’s a very hot and dry summer, a (relatively) cold winter, and deer. Oh the deer. Anyway, I have a list I’m keeping as I discover plants that meet my requirements, as we will slowly convert a pathetic lawn (because I refuse to water it) into what I’m hoping will eventually be a lovely drought-tolerant landscape. This is exactly the kind of resource I’m looking for. Lewis devotes about 35 pages to an overview of just what ground covers are (and what they aren’t) and some tips on preparing and caring for ground covers, especially in the first year or two. He then offers guidance in how to design landscapes using ground covers, and includes more than 15 helpful lists of recommended plants for specific situations and challenges, from edibles and fragants to plants for dry shade or wet terrain. He then moves into the good stuff – an alphabetical list (by scientific name) of recommended plants, including common name as well as cultivars and subspecies – all with decent info on zones, height and spread, propagation, care and uses. There are loads of photos as well, all in full colour and all with a caption listing the scientific name so you can find it quickly. Some of the entries are several pages long, such as Carex (sedge), devoting 10 pages to 22 subspecies with photos. The endpages include a reference list, resources for those wanting more information, and an excellent 15-page index of both latin and common names. I’ve added some winners to my plant list, and confirmed the ones that I’d already added were going to work in my situation. My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) and District Public Library for including this excellent resource in its adult nonfiction collection.
More discussion and reviews of this book: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/58328353

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Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that Explain Everything About the World, by Tim Marshall (2015)

Nonfiction | Adult

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that Explain Everything About the World, by Tim Marshall (2015)

As I look out on a peaceful snowy scene this Christmas Eve, I’m filled with a deep sense of gratitude for many things, not the least of which is being born a Canadian. I’m not sure what I did in my pre-life to be destined for a Nova Scotian womb, but I’m thankful every day for living in one of the best places in the world. Even more so after reading Tim Marshall’s book. A British journalist, he has reported on foreign affairs from some 30 countries, including six war zones. This immersive career experience has given him a perspective on geopolitics (how physical geography shapes nationhood and politics) that informs this book. In it, he examines ten regions whose wars, social development, politics and policies are not just shaped but perhaps even determined by the area’s mountains, rivers, seas and sometimes weather, and that to understand today’s news and events, one must consider geography. Marshall opens with an introduction that cements his expertise as a journalist who has covered wars in the Balkans, the break-up of the Soviet Union, tensions in the Middle East, and more, and explains geopolitics as “the ways in which international affairs can be understood through geographical factors” (p. 2). He then proceeds to examine ten countries or regions, using maps to explain political history, starting with (and this is why I picked up this book) Vladimir Putin and Russia. Now, it’s important to note that the book was written well before this year’s devastating invasion of Ukraine. Marshall practically predicts it, as he reviews Ukraine’s critical position as both a buffer zone against invasion from the North European Plain, as well as protecting Russia’s critical warm-water port in Crimea. A neutral Ukraine was acceptable, but a pro-Western Ukraine that could one day host a NATO base? “That could not stand.” And that’s what led to the tensions that resulted in Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The chapter on Russia numbers just 25 or so pages, but it’s so informative. I also read the next two chapters, on China and the United States, gaining a deeper understanding of the three countries that make me a grateful Canadian. Marshall then shifts into a regional perspective, offering analyses of Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India & Pakistan, Korea & Japan, Latin America and finally the Arctic, where Marshall presents a clear and sobering view of the impending battle for sovereignty (Russia is in the lead at the moment, he asserts) as climate change advances and the economic stakes increase. There’s an extensive bibliography, organized by chapter, and an excellent index. My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library for obtaining this book via interlibrary loan.
More discussion and reviews of this title: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25205438

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Budmo! Recipes from a Ukrainian Kitchen, by Anna Voloshyna (2022)

Nonfiction | Adult

Budmo! Recipes from a Ukrainian Kitchen, by Anna Voloshyna (2022)

Here’s the second cookbook I’m featuring this week; another great option for gift-giving or for adding to your own cookbook collection, though at over $50 Canadian it’s pricey. My mother was Hungarian, and a professional cook, so I grew up enjoying flavourful, hearty Eastern European foods like goulash and a tomato-pepper dish called lecso, along with our more typical Canadian fare of spaghetti and toasted tomato sandwiches. The stunning cover on this new library offering caught my eye immediately, and the recipes inside did not disappoint. Voloshyna is a young food photographer who grew up in Ukraine and moved to the United States, where she began sharing her family recipes at pop-up dinners. She includes an interesting introduction that briefly addresses Ukrainian history, agriculture, and cooking, but doesn’t mention the February 2022 invasion by Russia. The word Budmo means “let us be,” and serves as a toast equivalent to our “cheers.” It’s an interesting choice for a title, given what’s still going on as we usher out this year. Most of the recipes are traditional, but Voloshyna has included with some of her own creations inspired by her time in the U.S., including roasted whole cabbage and a halibut wrapped in lavash, a Turkish flatbread, and baked, served with beet yogurt. There are roughly 80 recipes, organized in a traditional way: Starters, Salads, and Spreads; Soups and Kashas (porridge); Main Dishes; Breads, Crepes, and Dumplings; Pickles, Sauces, and Drinks; and Deserts. Recipe titles are in English or Ukrainian, followed by a Cyrillic word that I assume is the same thing. I was delighted to find items familiar to Grand Forks’ Doukhobour roots: varenyky, pyrizhky, cabbage rolls, vegetarian Russian potato salad and more, as well as fascinating fare like a very pretty green sorrel borscht, Georgian eggplant rolls and “Mom’s Famous Spicy and Sour Tomatoes.” There are hearty meat-based options like pork shank and chicken and mushroom crepes, but true to its peasant roots, most of the offerings are vegetarian or easy to make without meat. Few of the recipes take more than a page, which I appreciate, and every one has a photo. Again, thank you! The index is nicely done; recipes are listed in both English and Ukrainian, along with ingredients, so you can find inspiration when you find yourself with an eggplant or want to make something with canned beans. My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library for including this title in its adult nonfiction collection.
More discussion and reviews of this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60699785

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Boards & Spreads: Shareable, Simple Arrangements for Every Meal, by Yasmin Fahr (2022)

Nonfiction | Adult

Boards & Spreads: Shareable, Simple Arrangements for Every Meal, by Yasmin Fahr (2022)

Cookbooks still rule at my home, and I’ve discovered two terrific titles on our local library’s New Books shelf that would make great gifts. This is a beautifully photographed presentation of ideas for sharing boards that you can use as a party host or for an informal family meal, way beyond the classic charcuterie or cheese board. Author Fahr is a contributor to my fave food blog, TheKitchn, as well as print publications like The Washington Post and Bon Appetit. In this cookbook, she has curated a collection of spreads for every meal and occasion, using everyday ingredients with recipes that are easy to follow. The book is organized into eight sections; the introduction includes encouraging advice and suggestions, tips on creating a board, and caring for your wood board. That’s followed by Boards for Breakfast, Breads on Boards, Snacking Boards + Salad + Veggie Platters, Dinnertime Boards, Take It Outside, Accents + Add-Ons, and Dips, Spreads + More Fun Things. Each of the board sections features six to seven boards; the last two sections offer recipes for delicious sides from quick-charred canned artichokes to baked pita chips and a yummy two-minute feta dip. That makes it easy to create your own boards, inspired by the beautiful photos by Julia Gartland. The ideas are wide-ranging, from Big Pot of Mussels on a Board for dinner to the Highly Transportable Grain Bowl picnic board. I’m delighted to report that the board photos are either next to the board menu/recipe, or the item is listed on the photo so you can look it up. There’s a photo of nearly every recipe, which makes kicks a cookbook way up in usefulness. And yes, there’s an index. Photos are referenced with italics, and most ingredients are listed separately. However, I didn’t find pickled jalapeno except with shallots, because it’s an alternative to the shallots. The cheeses are not listed separately – just under cheese, or within the full recipe title. That’s a fail by my indexing standards. Still, a beautiful book that will delight the cook on your gift list, or to add to your own shelf. Most of the recipes are pretty easy to follow with basic skills and tools, so it’s also a great choice for young chefs who are eager to take the lead in the kitchen. My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library for including this tasty title in its adult nonfiction collection.
More discussion and reviews of this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60018583

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The Outlaw, by Nancy Vo (2018)

Picture Book | 3-7

The Outlaw (Crow Stories Trilogy #1), by Nancy Vo (2018)

Quick – name a western picture book for children. Right? Nancy Vo realized there is a niche that needs filling, and went to work on what she calls the Crow Stories trilogy. This is the first title, followed by The Ranger (2019); we’re still waiting for the final book. This is a western with a conscience; realizing that most kids’ understanding of Westerns involves gunfights and revenge, Vo decided to offer a different take. In this entry to the trilogy, an unnamed outlaw terrorizes a town, causing train passengers to quake in fear and shopowners to close up early, “just in case.” One day, however, the outlaw simply disappears, and slowly the townspeople’s fears abate. Times are difficult, though, and over the years, buildings fall into disrepair. On a hot summer day, a stranger rides in and silently begins fixing things. Then someone recognizes him as the outlaw. The story is one of forgiveness and amends in spare prose, making it a gentle readaloud that leaves lots of time to examine the pages and think about the words. Vo’s illustrations are done in ink and watercolour with newsprint and historic fabric impressions, in a muted colour palette that invites nighttime sharing. The story is simple, and would also serve nicely in a classroom discussion about transgressions and atonement. I’m curious about Vo’s naming this the Crow Stories trilogy; there is a crow who appears early and at the end, but that’s it. Hmm. I did read The Ranger, featuring a female protagonist and a grateful fox; if you are looking for a couple of gifts for young children, the pair would be excellent choices that support a talented Canadian picture book writer and illustrator. My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library for including this title in its children’s picture book collection.
More discussion and reviews of this title: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35594032

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The Secret Letters (Mysteries of Trash & Treasure #1), by Margaret Peterson Haddix (2022)

Mystery | 8-13

The Secret Letters (Mysteries of Trash & Treasure #1), by Margaret Peterson Haddix (2022)

There’s a lovely Icelandic tradition of giving each other books on Christmas Eve, and spending the night reading. Here is the first of two titles to consider for children in your life. When you work in children’s library services, it’s important to know the authors whose work will connect with readers looking for a certain kind of book. I grew up devouring mystery series from Nancy Drew to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators. Margaret Peterson Haddix is an author I would have loved, and one I’ve come to reply on when recommending mysteries for kids. Her work is entertaining and relevant, featuring riveting adventure, puzzling mystery, and warm camaraderie. Here, she launches a new series featuring Colin and Nevaeh, whose parents operate similar but competing businesses. Colin’s minimalist single mum helps people declutter their lives by donating or ditching superfluous items, while Nevaeh’s dad is The Junk King, taking what people don’t want and — eventually — selling it. (“Dad!” she hollered. “Did you sell our dishes again?”) This is the summer the two children start working for their parents. When Colin finds a shoebox of letters written to 12-year-old Rosemary in the 1970s from her friend Toby, he’s fascinated. Toby is obsessed with television; Rosemary is determined to be the first woman professional baseball player, astronaut, Supreme Court judge – the first female something! Secretly taking the box of letters, Colin reads them all, and in looking for Toby’s address, meets Nevaeh. She’s helping her father determine what happened to a storage unit full of antiques. Intrigued by Colin’s mystery, Nevaeh convinces him to join forces, and try to figure out where Toby and Rosemary are now and what caused the fight that ended their correspondence. Along the way, they learn about 1970s cultural icons and history like Billie Jean King, Fonzie, pet rocks and the Equal Rights Amendment. How these two kids from very different families collaborate and find the answers is an enjoyable journey with a realistic plotline, flawed but loving parents who have their own secrets, and a gentle feminist message that Haddix elaborates on in an interesting and personal afterword. A terrific choice for young readers who enjoy puzzling modern mysteries with characters who are spirited, inventive and resourceful. The book is set in the US northeast, and both children seem to be white. My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) and District Public Library for including this mystery in its children’s fiction collection.
More discussion and reviews of this title: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59949712

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Miracle on I-40, by Curtiss Ann Matlock (2005, 1988)

Holiday Fiction | Adult

Miracle on I-40, by Curtiss Ann Matlock (2005, 1988)

It’s December! The baking has begun, the decorations are starting to appear, and carols filling the wintry air. I love to launch the season with a Christmas-themed book, and this one caught my eye months ago – a holiday-themed road trip romance? Sign me up! Written by a well-known romance writer, it’s an old title, more than 35 year old now, but popular enough to be reissued. The 2005 reissue has a lovely cover too. Lacey Bryant is 30 years old, working as a truckstop waitress in Albuquerque to support herself and her two children, Anna and Jon. She’s divorced from the ne’er-do-well who wasn’t much of a husband or father, though he did marry her when he got her pregnant at 17. That was also when her father tossed her out for refusing to give up the baby, and she hasn’t been home to North Carolina since, though she’s been in occasional touch with her sister and mother. But upon learning her father was ill, she decided it was time to change things. This year she would bring her children home for Christmas to meet their grand-parents and cousins.Without a reliable vehicle to make the 1800-mile journey, she accepts an offer from a trucker friend named Pate. Those plans go awry when Pate breaks his leg; instead, the good-looking but taciturn Cooper is doing the driving. However, two little kids don’t make the best passengers. How the little Bryant family slowly win over this ill-tempered and reticent bachelor is an entertaining and charming holiday story, with humour and heart. There are a number of Christian references, but there’s also a teensy magical element. I really enjoyed the very realistic old-fashioned aspect, as it was written nearly 40 years ago, prior to cellphones and the internet, just as in-car cd players were emerging as the latest technology. The plot is enjoyable, and the children are quite entertaining characters, as are Lacey and Cooper. The ending is no surprise, of course, but Matlock avoids over-sentimentality and delivers a satisfying conclusion appropriate for the genre. Plus I really loved that cover! My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library for including this title in its adult fiction collection.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18484584

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The Apollo Murders, by Chris Hadfield (2021)

Thriller | Adult

The Apollo Murders, by Chris Hadfield (2021)

Authors always say the best advice is “write what you know.” I’m not sure how Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield came up with the idea of a murderous incident in space, but wherever it came from I hope there’s more! Ignore a few improbably plot twists, and you’ll find this novel is a lot of fun, on many levels. First, it’s a Cold War thriller, set in the late 1970s and pitting American and Soviet astronauts and space organizations against each other. It’s a murder mystery, of course, and it’s also a space geek’s dream, with enough detail on every flight vehicle that I feel pretty confident I could step in and land a helicopter in an emergency. Former test pilot/astronaut wannabe Kaz Zemeckis is called to Houston where he learns of the final and secret Apollo 18 space mission: the Soviets have set up a spy station in space with cutting edge imagery that threatens American security. So in addition to a final visit to the moon for some space geology work, the NASA astronauts need to make a stop and disable the cameras. (This little detail jars the modern reader – I know astronauts are often of a military background, but really? You would just follow that order?) Just as Kaz arrives, one of the flight crew members is killed in a training accident; a backup crew member takes his place, requiring Kaz to employ leadership skills in keeping the crew cohesive. Things in space don’t go quite as planned, and slowly we learn that not everyone on board the Apollo is who they say they are. (If ever Hadfield attends my dream-guest dinner party, I’ll definitely question him on the likelihood of a psychopath making it through the astronaut training program!) Despite the ensuring problems, the moon visit goes ahead anyway, resulting in an Apollo-11-like scenario with a very weird twist.The action never stops, even when the space module returns to Earth. Never mind the unlikely issues about guns in space, inadequate vetting, and “secret” missions involving hundreds of civilians. Strap yourself in for this one, don’t ask too many questions, and just enjoy the ride. Hadfield’s impressive credentials add a great deal of verisimilitude to the story, and the technical details are staggering, which I found fascinating, though perhaps not everyone will. There is plenty of political hand-wringing and scheming, and Hadfield’s afterword includes interesting information on his research and untangling of fact and fiction. I listened to the audiobook, and Ray Porter’s narration is excellent. My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library for including this title in its adult fiction collection, as well as e-book and e-audiobook versions in the online collection.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59225264

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Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus (2022)

Historical Fiction / Adult

Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus (2022)

It’s the middle of the 20th century, and Elizabeth Zott is a chemist. She’s not a man, but she’s still a chemist, dammit! She’s not married, but she’s sharing a home with a man, who happens to be a chemist too. A famous one, even. Which gets those mid-century tongues a-flapping. And when she’s fired for being pregnant out of wedlock, a grieving Elizabeth rips out the kitchen to put in a proper lab so she can continue her research. When circumstances create an unexpected (and well-paid) opportunity to host a cooking show on afternoon television, Elizabeth decides to accept, and promptly turns the show into a series of introductory chemistry lessons. Molecules, proteins, conflagrations – they are all part of Supper at Six, which drives her bosses out of their minds. Nonetheless, Elizabeth perseveres, using her show to encourage American women to reject social norms, patriarchy, and ridiculous gender-based assumptions about themselves. Along the way, we meet her brilliant daughter, a faithless preacher, an abused neighbour, and Six-Thirty, the most amazing dog who, under Elizabeth’s careful tutelage, knows hundreds of words and helps her in the kitchen-turned-lab. I love this book!! The characters are memorable and true, and the writing is absolutely brilliant. Try these lines from Elizabeth’s obstetrician: “‘It’s just that we tend to treat pregnancy as the most common condition in the world–as ordinary as stubbing a toe–when the truth is, it’s like getting hit by a truck. Although obviously a truck causes less damage.'” (p. 131) And the cover! The pencil is a brilliant touch, and shows up several times, once as a weapon …. I laughed a great deal, fumed with her as 1960s norms kept knocking her down, cheered her as she persisted in getting back up, and grieved with her. It’s already earned Book of the Year from Barnes and Noble – pretty impressive for a debut novel, eh? If you haven’t read this yet, get on it! It has been out for a while, but there is still a huge amount of interest, and it’s so well deserved. One of the best books I’ve read in 2022. My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library for including this title in its adult fiction collection.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58065033

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