Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson (2018)

Dystopian Fiction
The Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson“Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive.” When a nuclear war and flu pandemic ravage the world they once knew, Lynn McBride and her small family find refuge in the Yukon Territory. Seven years have passed since Lynn’s father died of the flu and her Uncle Jeryl convinced his sister-in-law to trek from Alaska to the Yukon’s Blackstone Valley. Isolated from whatever remains of the world, the small band of survivors builds cabins and grows a meagre lot of vegetables in springs that never turn to summers. Days are spent gathering firewood and melting snow for water. In a nod to Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games, Lynn is a skilled hunter, setting traplines and using her crossbow to feed the family. Read more of this post


GIRL: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You, by Karen Rayne (2017)

Girl: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You by Karen RayneImagine having an highly discreet older sister who is there every time you have a question that there’s  no WAY you’d ever ask your mum or coolest teacher or even your best friend. Questions about STIs and not getting pregnant or being bisexual or what to expect on a date or how to insert a tampon right so it doesn’t hurt or all the other things that crop up for young people who identify as girls. Written by psychologist and educator Karen Rayne, the book’s stated intent is to address what it means to be a girl, physically, emotionally, and sexually. It’s exactly the kind of book I sought out in my teens as I tried to navigate relationships with my family and friends, transitioning into adulthood while exploring my identity. Read more of this post

The Bookshop on the Corner, by Jenny Colgan (2017)

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny ColganNina Redmond is a 29-year-old librarian in Birmingham – she has watched life pass by over the top edge of whatever book she is reading. And she is always reading. Her raison d’être is to find the right book for each person at the very moment they need it, and she’s super good at this. So when her library closes and she loses her job, she is devastated. Only two staff members will be re-hired as “knowledge facilitators” at the multimedia hub the city is opening in town, and though she interviews for it, she’s clearly not going to get the job. Librarians, she realizes, are going the way of typewriter repairers. “She felt, at twenty-nine, oddly surplus to life’s requirements.” But at a workshop offered by the library for the reeling staff, Nina finds the courage to voice her dream of opening a bookshop. Given her limited resources, she decides to buy a used van and make it mobile. Read more of this post

Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle Zevin (2017)

Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle ZevinWhatever happened to Monica Lewinsky? Those of us who remember the scandal that broke exactly 20 years ago this month are likely bemoaning the fact so little has changed, as police officers, movie producers, journalists and others across every industry face allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace. But at least now victims’ stories are being heard – 20 years ago, interviews with Lewinsky were done not to understand her side of the story but to broadcast one salacious detail after another. And that’s where this story stands out and shines. Zevin, author of the brilliant and delightful The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, has reimagined the Clinton-Lewinsky affair into a sparkling novel that explores what happens when boundaries are crossed, decisions can’t be reversed, and lives are forever impacted. Read more of this post

Duck Soup, by Jackie Urbanovic (2008)

Picture Book
Duck Soup, by Jackie UrbanovicThis delightful and comical picture book is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and is still in print – it’s easy to see why! The book was first published in 2008, when it earned a starred review from Kirkus. I recently discovered it on my library’s bookshelves and immediately fell hard for this funny and silly story that will appeal to young children. Max the Duck likes making soup and has had both hits and misses, from the yummy-sounding squash gumbo to the Cracker Barrel Cheese and Marshmallow soup. But this time, this time Max is about to create his culinary masterpiece. Read more of this post

Life on Mars, by Jon Agee (2017)

Picture Book
Life on Mars by Jon AgeeI really enjoy Jon Agee’s humour, first discovered while browsing picture books at Vancouver’s beloved Kidsbooks store. The book was called Terrific and I immediately bought a copy for a grandchild and ordered a copy for my library’s storytime collection. It was a stalwart title for elementary school visits to the library, fun to read aloud and giving us a chance to convey great emotional range in a readaloud. This one has less range but is a surefire winner for storytime sessions and lapsharing. An astronaut visits Mars in search of life, and finds a desolate planet devoid of any living thing. Or so he thinks. Children won’t be able to resist pointing out the giant alien our astronaut doesn’t see. Read more of this post

Bonfire, by Krysten Ritter (2017)

Bonfire, by Krysten RitterAbby Williams is one of the few to escape her small town in Indiana and get an education. She is now an environmental lawyer in Chicago, with a great future, a sweet apartment, and a set of friends, along with a rotation of bed partners. Despite her success she has barely unpacked her belongings in her big-city apartment. This is someone who is either living a lie or can’t shake her roots and is poised to escape again. Perhaps a bit of both. The book open as Abby returns home to investigate Optimal Plastics, the town’s main employer, for allegations of water pollution. She hasn’t been back in 10 years, though her father still lives in the aptly named Barrens. Abby has just pulled into town when her old nemesis Misha Dale appears. Read more of this post

Once There Was a Way: What If The Beatles Stayed Together? by Bryce Zabel (2017)

Speculative Fiction
Once There Was a Way: What If The Beatles Stayed Together? by Bryce ZabelAlternative histories can be interesting explorations of “what if” scenarios. It’s been more than a dozen years but I still recall the fascination I felt in reading Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America in which a Republican president Charles Lindbergh takes office in 1940 and signs a non-aggression pact with Hitler. So when this book came up in my list of upcoming offerings, I thought I’d give it a try. I have to confess I’m not a particular fan of The Beatles, though I certainly enjoy much of their music. However, I’m too young to remember them performing, and I honestly don’t know very much about their history. Still, this sounded interesting. I soon found myself cursing at the book out of sheer irritation. Read more of this post

Gardening in the Pacific Northwest, by Paul Bonine and Amy Campion (2017)

Gardening in the Pacific Northwest, by Paul Bonine and Amy CampionTime for my annual end-of-the-year garden book! It’s the perfect time to start planning a better garden than ever! And this title is definitely finding a spot on my shelf. Regional expert Paul Bonine takes the lead on this project, offering a nuanced and informed understanding of gardening in the Pacific Northwest. The authors define the PNW area as encompassing Oregon and Washington on both sides of the Cascade Mountains, as well as southwestern British Columbia west of Hope, including the Sunshine Coast, Howe Sound, and Vancouver Island. While interior B.C. is not included, I feel confident in including my area within the huge swath called Eastern Washington and Oregon, east of the Cascades. Read more of this post

Seven Days of Us, by Francesca Hornak (2017)

Contemporary Fiction
Seven Days of Us, by Francesca HornakFor the first time in years, the Birch family will spend Christmas together – not that there’s much choice. Olivia Birch has long avoided the holidays with her family – in school, then in residency, and most recently in Africa as a doctor treating victims of a deadly virus. Her tour of duty over and back in the U.K., she is under quarantine for seven days, and thus the enforced family gathering at the slightly shabby family estate in Norfolk. Sister Phoebe is secretly jealous she’ll no longer be the focus of attention, but she’s busying herself planning her wedding to an absolute ass, though she doesn’t see it. Yet. Mum Emma is keeping a big secret from her family, and Dad Andrew, a restaurant critic, is dreading the prospect of a week with his wife and daughters. Read more of this post

Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories, by L.M. Montgomery (1995)

Short Stories
Christmas With Anne and Other Holiday Stories, by L.M. MontgomeryWith so many demands on our time this month, it can be a challenge to make it a priority to relax and enjoy the sounds, sights, and scents of the holidays. This year I chose a classic Canadian collection by our very own Lucy Maud Montgomery. This collection of holiday stories was put together by Rea Wilmshurst, who found a number of unpublished stories in the late 1970s at Montgomery’s birthplace. She obtained a list of every item Montgomery published (more than 500), and spent years collecting as many as she could. Many of the stories were only published at the turn of the 20th century, in magazines or other formats. The list includes included a number of Christmas stories, the best of which appear here. Read more of this post

Gwendy’s Button Box, by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar (2017)

Gwendy's Button Box, by Stephen King and Richard ChizmarI approach Stephen King with great trepidation. As a teen I devoured Carrie and moved rapidly through his backlist, until Salem’s Lot, which so terrified me I made my younger brother accompany me upstairs at bedtime. No lie. Didn’t touch King again for years! But this one, co-written with his longtime friend Richard Chizmar, looked so intriguing I gave it to my spouse to read. He passed it back, assuring me it was in the vein of King novels I’ve loved like Hearts in Atlantis and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. It’s 1974, and we are back in Castle Rock, a favourite King setting. Gwendy is 12, about to enter middle school in the fall. Determined to shed her detested nickname Goodyear, she spends the summer pounding up Suicide Stairs, ignoring the stranger in a hat reading on a bench. Probably a perv, she figures. Read more of this post

The Expansion, by Christoph Martin (2017)

The Expansion, by Christoph MartinPutting in a bid to engineer the expansion of the Panama Canal is an opportunity hydrogeologist and engineer Max Burns simply cannot pass up. If they win, it will be an amazing career achievement. Even the bid is a lengthy commitment, so when Max jumps on board, his fiancée calls off the engagement. But there’s plenty of positives for the good-looking engineer, including catch-up time with his boarding school buddy Godfredo Roco, who, along with his father Paco Roco, is heading the bid submission. Fredo hasn’t changed much – sure, he’s a smart-ass womanizer who lives the high life, but he is fiercely loyal, including to the father whom he hates. Paco is an astute and unscrupulous businessman, determined to beat the competition at any cost. Read more of this post

Transit Street Design Guide, by NACTO (2016)

Transit Street Design Guide, by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)I recently left Vancouver after living in the city more than 16 years. Half that time was without a car, and except for 5 years commuting to work in a suburb, I used buses exclusively for getting to school and then work. Now that I’m in “rural” British Columbia, I still walk to the shops, post office, library and trails. Though I don’t use our local bus (there’s one, with no regular route as it’s “door to door” and must be arranged in advance), I am still a huge supporter of public transit. It just makes sense. In the introduction, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) makes the very important point that transit is the most efficient way to move “tremendous numbers” of people from one place to another. Read more of this post

Artemis, by Andy Weir (2017)

Science Fiction
Artemis, by Andy WeirOh how we have been waiting for this book! Weir won international fame for his first novel, The Martian, which (as I, ahem, predicted) then blew us away as a blockbuster movie. Sophomore efforts often pale after such a success, and Weir makes a pretty good effort here. Set in the not-too-distant future, Artemis is a small colony of about 2000 on the moon. Jazz Bashara has lived there for two decades, since she was six years old. A non-practising Muslim, she makes a living as a deliveryperson with a profitable side gig as a small-time smuggler. Despite the constant hussle, her bank balance is dismally low, a problem as she has a debt to pay, and wants a better place to live where she doesn’t have to pad down the hall to a communal bathroom. Read more of this post