Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman, transl. by Neil Smith (2020)

Contemporary Fiction | Adult

Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman, transl. by Neil Smith (2020)

I’m a big fan of Fredrik Backman‘s work, ever since I read A Man Called Ove. He is a prolific Swedish writer, and I’ve enjoyed his subsequent writing, though some more than others. He is a talented writer with a fierce eye for human folly, and he delivers characters brimming with honesty and vulnerability. Here’s a quote from early in this novel, on the challenges of being human in a complicated world: “Some of us never manage to get the chaos under control, so our lives simply carry on, the world spinning through space at two million miles an hour while we bounce about on its surface like so many lost socks.” Even more remarkable is that this imagery is a translation of the original Swedish, though the collaboration between Backman and Smith is longstanding. That breathtaking observation is why I read his work, though in this one, I enjoyed the second half much more than the first.

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The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop, by Fannie Flagg (2020)

Fiction | Adult

The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop, by Fannie Flagg (2020)

With frigid temps keeping most of us indoors in British Columbia (and the ROC), it’s a great time to cozy up with our favourite folks from Whistle Stop. Flagg returns to this fictional Alabama railroad town and its quirky characters, in a novel that spans nearly 100 years. The Wonder Boy is Buddy Threadgoode, the little guy who loses his arm in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. It opens in 1991. No one is using the railroad and Whistle Stop has been abandoned. The buildings are still there but the kudzu vine is taking over, and all that remains are memories of the lively, bustling activity that surrounded Opal’s beauty shop, the café, the post office, and more. Flagg flips back and forth through time, advancing the story from the 1930s through to modern times as she reveals where everyone is and what they’re up to.

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The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett, by Annie Lyons (2020)

Fiction | Adult

The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett, by Annie Lyons (2020)

Eudora Honeysett is 85 years old. She lives alone in a townhouse in an English city with her demanding and aloof cat, Montgomery. Never married, she spent most of her life working in a bank and caring for her mother, who passed away about 10 years ago. Eudora has no family, no real friends, and is increasingly at odds with a modern world. On top of that, a fall has left her relying on a cane, and it’s getting difficult to walk where she wants to go, especially with so many distracted walkers seemingly mesmerised by whatever is on their foolish phones. She’s had enough of living, and contacts an assisted death facility in Switzerland. But they are cautious about accepting clients, and it will be a while before she gets a decision. Fine. While she waits she intends to continue her daily swim sessions, do crosswords, and generally ignore the outside world. But her new neighbour Rose has other plans.

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Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François (2007)

Adult | Nonfiction

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François

Okay, I’ll admit it. You had me at “Five Minutes a Day.” What bread lover could resist such a promise? So I checked out this older title from the library, and was instantly won over. Hertzberg is a doctor who adores a good loaf of bread, and François is the baker who helped him perfect his master recipe. The premise is simple – you make up a batch of wet dough on the weekend, keep it in the fridge, and every day or two you pinch off a ball, shape it in less than a minute, and in less than an hour it’s out of the oven and making you drool. So I tried it. Damn! It worked! The dough mixes up easily (no kneading – hurrah!) and seems to be keeping fine in the fridge.

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CBD Every Day: How to Make Cannabis-Infused Massage Oils, Bath Bombs, Salves, Herbal Remedies, and Edibles, by Sandra Hinchliffe (2019)

Adult | Nonfiction

CBD Every Day: How to Make Cannabis-Infused Massage Oils, Bath Bombs, Salves, Herbal Remedies, and Edibles, by Sandra Hinchliffe (2019)

With cannabis now legal for home gardeners, there is increasing interest in making your own cannabinoid products, from balms for pain to edibles that help you sleep, that offer health benefits without the high. I wanted to try my hand at a skin salve but instead of turning to the old internet, I checked out our local library collection. This newly added title is an excellent resource, with a couple of recipes for nearly every non-smoking use you can think of. Herbalist Hinchliffe opens by taking the newbie through the science of cannabinoids, from what they are, why they don’t make you high, how to calculate a dosage, and more, all intended to help the home crafter figure out strength, dosage, and purpose.

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The Wright Sister: A Novel, by Patty Dann (2020)

Historical Fiction | Adult

The Wright Sister: A Novel, by Patty Dann (2020)

Once again I’m intrigued by the premise of a novel based on a real person, and once again, I’m both charmed and irritated. I should just stop reading these! This novel is based on the life of Katharine Wright, the little-known younger sister to Wilbur and Orville Wright. She was educated as a teacher, a suffragist and feminist, and married at age 52. These are indeed intriguing elements of a life well lived in difficult times – Katharine was born in 1874, living through a great war and the Spanish flu epidemic before dying of pneumonia in March 1929, just over two years into her marriage. She grew up the only girl of five children, but was also the only one in the family to attend college. Her father was a demanding and stern clergyman, and her mother died young, leaving Katharine to take over that role in her family.

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Goldilocks, by Laura Lam (2020)

Science Fiction | Adult

Goldilocks, by Laura Lam (2020)

With the earth literally choking to death from pollution and overpopulation, countries around the world are working to develop a colony on another planet. A warp ring near Mars will allow them to bend the fabric of space and time to shorten the travel time to about eight and a half months. The Atalanta ship is ready to go, carrying a crew of five astronauts and five backup crew in cryostasis. All are men. In this world of the near future, approximately 2050 I’d guess, women have lost equality and been pushed into the background, a slow erosion of rights that has prompted reviewers to compare this to Handmaid’s Tale, crossed with The Martian. Pilot and scientist Valerie Black, squeezed out of the Atalanta development project when her company lost its contract with NASA, isn’t going down without a fight. She knows the ship like few others, and has decided to wrest the project away from the misogynists.

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Before the Coffee Gets Cold, by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, transl. by Geoffrey Trousselot (2015, 2020)

Fiction | Adult

Before the Coffee Gets Cold, by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, translated by Geoffrey Trousselot (2020)

In a back alley on the streets of Tokyo is a small, nondescript cafe with only a few tables and bar seats. One chair, however, is special. Very special. In that chair, through the steam of a cup of coffee, one can travel back in time. However, there are some very important rules. First, you cannot leave the chair. You must return before the coffee in your cup gets cold. And the present will not be changed. Despite these restrictions, in a series of interconnected stories, we witness five people travel back in time to speak with the ones they love – lovers, spouses, sisters, a mother and her daughter. And after each trip, it’s true – the present doesn’t change, as the rules state; however, each traveller returns with “a changed heart.”

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Plant Partners: Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden, by Jessica Walliser (2020)

Nonfiction | Adult

Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden, by Jessica Walliser (2020)

We’ve all heard about Roses Love Garlic, and Carrots Love Tomatoes – those popular titles that first promoted companion planting. This is the newest generation, drawing on current science to help gardeners create healthy and fruitful crops that are often as beautiful to look at as a traditional perennial border. Those of us who eschew straight rows of vegetables can rejoice in this news – chaos should reign instead. Well, not exactly chaos, but thoughtful disorder that encourages plant partners to work together and improve the soil, discourage pests, invite pollinators, and in general work to create a bountiful crop for your enjoyment at the table.

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Fearless with Fabric: Fresh Quilts from Traditional Blocks, by Sarah J. Maxwell (2020)

Nonfiction | Adult

It takes great courage to make a quilt, let me tell ya. It’s not just the sewing skills, the patience in putting together the pieces into blocks, and the challenge of following a pattern only to discover it has a mistake in the instructions. Grrrr! No. The real courage is in figuring out the fabrics and the colours. Unless you buy a kit (which comes with all the fabric ready for you to cut and sew back together in new and beautiful ways), you are likely going to create a quilt using fabric that sorta matches the instructions (3/4 yard aqua, 1/2 yard teal, 1/2 yard orange), and you don’t really know how well they’ll work together till you are near the end. I have been surprised by how well some work, and devastated when a planned quilt design fails miserably because of my colour choices.

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The Albatross: Contact, by Connor Mackay (2020)

Science Fiction | Adult

Since this year’s holiday planning and preparation are, by necessity, pretty much done in an hour, you’ve got time to read, right? Consider this epic intergalactic action-packed tale of aliens, alienation, and love in the time of space war, complete with the coolest biotechnology imaginable! Connor Mackay is the grandson of two Grand Forks residents, Jock and Betty-Anne Mackay; however, I didn’t know that when I requested the book. I learned it from the library staffer who checked it out for me. Cool! This is Mackay’s first book, and in an afterword he alerts the reader it’s the first in a series that could end up as five or six volumes. The story was born as a screenplay, but far too long to generate any interest. So he picked it up again and redeveloped it into a novel that comes in just over 450 pages in the hardcover edition. It’s self-published, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see this picked up by a mass market publisher.

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A Place at the Table, by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan (2020)

Contemporary | 9-14

A Place at the Table, by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan (2020)

Second review this week: Two girls of very different backgrounds find friendship in their shared love of good food. Sara is a Pakistani-American Muslim with an artistic bent, and Elizabeth is English-American and Jewish. Both are in Grade 6 at their public school, but Sara finds it a difficult place to make friends when she starts the year as a new student, having been yanked unwillingly out of the Islamic academy where she felt at home and welcome. Here, she faces racism and xenophobia, and finds comfort in her art. She has had enough of cooking, since her mother is always in the kitchen making food for her small catering business. But when Sara’s mum takes the lead in a South Asian cooking club at the school, Sara finds herself an unwilling partner with Elizabeth, who loves Indian and Pakistani cooking.

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In the Sky at Nighttime, by Laura Deal, illust. by Tamara Campeau (2019)

Picture Book | 3-7

In the Sky at Nighttime, by Laura Deal, illustrated by Tamara Campeau (2019)

Here’s the first of two reviews featuring books for children that are multicultural, beautifully created, and ideal for gifting. The cover caught my attention immediately, featuring snow-covered homes silhouetted against the northern lights, with a cawing raven suggesting a possible indigenous theme. Set in Canada’s North, this is a sweet bedtime story that celebrates the dark skies in our coldest season with lyrical text and gorgeous illustrations. Let’s start with the text. A gentle repeating refrain of “In the sky at nighttime” introduces young readers to all the delights of night in the north: “our laughter twists through the crisp, cold air,” snow falls fast,” “a mother’s delicate song to her child rises like a gentle breeze.”

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The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus, by Tim Slover (2010)

Fantasy | 9-Adult

The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus, by Tim Slover (2010)

December has arrived, and so has my annual Christmas story review. Lights, decorations, baking all happen with just a bit more joy and peace when you set the mood, so every year I poke around the library in search of a new Christmas story for adults. What a delight it was to discover this 10-year-old title! Slover has created an imaginative and magical biography of how the Santa Claus we know today came to be. The book opens as our unnamed narrator is on his annual trek in the Rockies looking for a Christmas tree. Through a break in the veil between our world and Santa’s, he comes to find a mysterious green book. That book is the magical story of Santa Claus, born simply Klaus. An 14th century orphan who is adopted by master woodworkers, Klaus quickly emerges as a skilled and creative carver.

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The End of the World Running Club, by Adrian J. Walker (2014, 2017)

Dystopian Fiction | Adult

The End of the World Running Club, by Adrian J. Walker (2014, 2017)

We were chatting at work about “cli-fi”, an emerging genre called “climate fiction” that focuses on life changed by environmental disasters, climate change, that sort of thing. Our director recommended this one, and I have to say the title totally grabbed me. (I know.) In short, a series of asteroids hit Great Britain and clobber the infrastructure, leaving most people dead, roads impassable, and food scarce. In short, it takes a natural cataclysm to get this alcoholic off the sofa! Edgar Hill is an overweight 30-something dad of two who, honestly, kinda hates being a married dad, and misses his single life. He deals with his melancholy by getting drunk whenever he can, and as a result, nearly misses out on the fact the asteroids are about to hit the earth, and everyone should take cover.

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