Killing Time, by Brenna Ehrlich (2022)

Mystery | 15-18

Killing Time, by Brenna Ehrlich (2022)

Natalie Temple has just finished high school, but instead of a summer of beach parties and college dorm decor shopping, she is determined to find out who killed her favourite teacher, Mrs. Halsey. With her best friend Katie, Natalie secretly (from her mother) hosts a true-crime podcast; the two were also in a true crime club at school with Mrs. Halsey. The teacher’s husband is implicated in the death, alleged to have been having an affair, and refuses to talk, but Natalie is convinced he is innocent. Computer whiz Katie is more interested in getting ready for college, so wannabe journalist Natalie is largely on her own as she records interviews and tries to figure out who is responsible. Natalie’s mum Helen knows nothing about it, especially since she is mysteriously opposed to Natalie’s true crime obsession. That opposition is slowly explained in a parallel storyline, as we learn that Helen herself was studying to be a journalist when another death changed her life. I was hoping for Veronica Mars and instead got a very strange version of Nancy Drew. I know she’s just 18, but I still don’t understand why her last words to her teacher are “you never cared about me!” She lies to her mum, Katie’s role is almost nonexistent except as a plot device, the podcast angle simply fades away, and the killer’s motivation is mystifying. I was disappointed in this one. My thanks to Inkyard Press for the digital reading copy provided in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this young adult mystery: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57803154

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Jameela Green Ruins Everything, by Zarq Nawaz (2022)

Humour | Adult

Jameela Green Ruins Everything, by Zarq Nawaz (2022)

In this satirical novel from the Canadian creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie, struggling author and lapsed Muslim Jameela Green makes a deal with Allah – she’ll do something good for another person, and Allah will put her book on the New York Times bestseller list. Unsure how to find someone to assist, self-centred Jameela turns to imam and new immigrant Ibrahim Sultan for help in doing something good, and while her shallowness appalls him, he agrees to help. That’s when all the trouble begins. They head out to the streets to find a homeless person, and in no time at all, Ibrahim is arrested and deported. Feeling responsible, Jameela lies to her family, hops a plane to the Middle East, and finds herself embroiled in assassination plots and marriage plans, caught between vengeful CIA operatives and hungry Muslim terrorists known as D.I.C.K.s (Dominion of the Islamic Caliphate and Kingdoms). This leads, as you can imagine, to lots of D.I.C.K. jokes, as well as harrowing danger for the fame-obsessed but fearless Jameela and her poor husband (the original one, Jewish Murray Green, not her new fiancĂ©) as well as her eye-rolling daughter. It’s a rollicking satire of Muslim stereotypes and American foreign policy that will appeal to fans of My Sister, the Serial Killer. I did find it uncomfortable at times – you have to be willing to find humour in violence – but laughed out loud regularly, and found myself confronting not a few of my own assumptions. I chose to listen to this book over about two weeks, while I was working on a sewing project. Narrator Aizzah Fatima creates a powerful voice for Jameela, perfectly conveying her doubts and determination as she faces death and an unwanted suitor. My thanks to Harper Audio for the advance digital copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60595891

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The Overnight Guest, by Heather Gudenkauf (2022)

Mystery | Adult

The Overnight Guest, by Heather Gudenkauf (2022)

A riveting atmospheric thriller that will keep you reading long past bedtime! Three storylines are told in parallel, coming together at the end in a tension-filled conclusion. Wylie Lark is a true crime writer who is staying in a remote farmhouse in midwinter as she finishes her latest book. A winter storm cuts off all outside contact, and when the dog that came with the house won’t come in, she goes out to discover a child in the snow. The second storyline is a minute-by-minute account of a vicious murder and disappearance in the heat of an Iowan summer. Third is a Room-like story of a girl and her abused mother living in isolation and fear. Dates and italics are used to help distinguish each storyline. I found the constant switching a bit staccato-like at times, but the characters soon develop clear voices and I enjoyed discovering the odd clue and red herring (I was completely suckered by one of them!) as the stories come together. The juxtaposition of the extreme weather in summer and winter adds tension to both stories, and the character development is top-notch as Gudenkauf slowly reveals motivations and explanations for what initially appears as bizarre behaviour. Cover is superb, too. (One editorial point – I found two typos in my print copy: hyperthermia when it should have been hypothermia, and woman when it should have been women. Not a big deal but I noticed.) My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library for including a copy of this mystery novel in its adult fiction collection. There are also copies in the electronic collection, both e-book and e-audio.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57578386

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The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich (2020)

Historical Fiction | Adult

The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich (2020)

I’m familiar with Louise Erdrich’s work as a writer of fiction for children (The Birchbark House), so when this was chosen as the book for our library’s monthly book club, I decided to delve in, and for the first time, take part in this group. (I am a recalcitrant reader – I do not like being told what to read, lol!) In this story that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Erdrich draws on the true-life stories of her grandfather and others living on reservations in the 1950s, and most importantly, the U.S. Government’s 1953 House Concurrent Resolution 108. This bill purported to “emancipate” Native Americans but in reality launched what’s called a “termination policy” that lasted until Nixon, though its impact resonates still today. In this fictionalized story based on her family’s memories and notes and extensive research, Erdrich has imagined her grandfather as Thomas Wazhashk, who works tirelessly to fight termination as the tribal chairman with North Dakota’s Turtle Mountain Tribe. The tribe can’t afford to pay him, so he also works as a night watchman in the Turtle Mountain jewel bearing plant. Having learned of HCR-108, he reads it closely and realizes that the bill’s intention is to abrogate the treaties and terminate all tribes, forcing his people off the little land they had. “But every so often the government remembered about Indians. And when they did, they always tried to solve Indians, thought Thomas. They solve us by getting rid of us.” (p. 80). And so, between his nighttime rounds of the plant, Thomas writes to government officials, community leaders, and other tribes, determined to prevent termination. At the same time, his niece Patrice (called Pixie despite her entreaties) takes leave from her job at the plant to find her sister Vera, who left for the city and hasn’t been heard from in months. The story of how she prepares for train travel, quickly finds the dark underbelly of Minneapolis, and deftly scores a way to earn cash is a novel in itself! But it’s only one part of this moving story of family, love, and survival, featuring a dozen other wonderful characters – a boxer named Wood Mountain, for the place his father came from, his lovesick boxing coach, Patrice’s deeply spiritual and vengeful mother Zhaanat, a mooning Mormon missionary, a young Chippewa scholar whose support of Thomas’ work leads her to change her major, a capricious ghost named Roderick, and many more. (One book club member madea list to keep track of them all!) Erdrich deftly handles troubling issues of exploitation and violence, and the novel is a testament of how difficult the struggle of daily living is for indigenous communities. The book is lengthy at just over 400 pages, and Erdrich’s evocative writing entwines the stories like a braid, changing perspectives throughout the novel, but always returning to Patrice and Thomas as the main drivers of this determined tale of family, calling, spirituality, identity and more. My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library for including a copy of this novel in its adult fiction collection.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/46206688

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Bonnie Jack, by Ian Hamilton (2021)

Fiction | Adult

Bonnie Jack, by Ian Hamilton (2021)

Bloody Jack Anderson is a ruthless American businessman, on the brink of retirement. His wife and children know this will be a difficult transition, and attribute his moodiness to the pending change. But something else is troubling Jack, and shocks the family when he announces he has been keeping a secret from them for decades – he has a sister in Scotland, and has found her after more than 50 years. They were separated when his mother abandoned him in a Glasgow movie theatre; the parents he has called Mum and Dad all his life adopted him. After explaining the story, the family encourages Jack to go to Scotland and meet his long lost sister, and find out why his mother kissed her son and walked out the theatre with only her youngest child. The story’s pretty compelling, right? It’s in fact based on what happened to Hamilton’s own father, though he emphasizes the rest of it is fictional. Good thing. Bloody Jack hates his nickname but it’s well-earned. I’m sure Dad Hamilton is relieved his son added that author’s note! The trip to Scotland is set in the 1980s, helpfully allowing Hamilton to create a story in a time without cellphones, googling, and the like, but also a time with a heckuva lot of drinking and driving. Sheesh. I did enjoy the descriptions of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and Hamilton mines difficult family dynamics to create tension and explosive situations. However, it grew harder for me to sympathize with Jack, and his treatment of his family on both sides of the water is puzzling, even distasteful at times. It’s a short novel, and perhaps that’s because Hamilton, best known as the author of the Ava Lee mysteries, struggled to figure out how to explore the impact of such a shocking incident in a family where the divide grows even wider than the ocean that separates them. My thanks to the Grand Forks & District Public Library for obtaining this copy for me through interlibrary loan.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55356027

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Otto Blotter, Bird Spotter, by Graham Carter (2019)

Picture Book | 4-7

Otto Blotter, Bird Spotter, by Graham Carter (2019)

Here’s the second book I’m featuring this week, and you can see why I thought it was part of the same series as Ada Twist, Scientist! But they aren’t related at all. In this book written and illustrated by Carter, young Otto is a youngster with a thirst for adventuring and exploring, but he’s unfortunately in a family of devoted and famous birders who spend every minute sitting still in hopes of spotting feathered creatures. They’ve even built their home as a giant bird blind, so they don’t ever have to leave and possibly miss a pileated something or other. Otto, depicted as a light-skinned boy, strains mightily against these tethers, and one day, off he goes on his own adventurous path. He discovers some fascinating things along the way, including, to his great surprise, a little baby bird. He’s not permitted pets, but can’t leave the little fellow alone so he tucks him into his sweater and sneaks him home. How Otto looks after his feathered friend without his family knowing is a delightful caper, but eventually, he finds himself unable to keep the secret any longer. Youngsters will delight in discovering how this story is resolved, and in exploring the illustrations for new discoveries every time they read the book. A lovely story of family, belonging, and the importance of celebrating everyone’s strengths and interests. My thanks to the Grand Forks & District Public Library for including a copy in its children’s picture book collection.
More discussion and reviews of this picture book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43570436

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Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty, illus. by David Roberts (2016)

Picture Book | Ages 3-7

Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty, illus. by David Roberts (2016)

I have chosen to feature two quite similarly-titled picture books this week. I thought they were both part of a series, but in fact, they are by different authors and different publishers, and take quite different approaches. I’m starting with this one, which is part of a STEM career picture book series called The Questioneers. The others in the series are Rosie Revere, Engineer, Iggy Peck, Architect, and Aaron Slater, Illustrator. All are illustrated by Roberts, as well as several companion books featuring the same characters. There’s also, I’ve discovered, a Netflix show for kids about Ada Twist, based on the book. I have to say I loved this one! Let’s start with the cover: an inquisitive Ada, depicted as a Black girl, is pencilling questions and ideas all over the wall as her brother looks on with dismay. It’s a tantalising hint of the mischief we’ll find within – Ada wonders all the time – why, what, when, what if? (And really, why are there “pointy things stuck to a rose?”) The book is written in a delightful rhyming scheme, and the pages are packed with illustrations showing Ada bouncing from question to question, stymieing her teacher and wearing out her poor parents, not to mention the family cat.
“But this much was clear about Miss Ada Twist:
She had all the traits of a great scientist.”
How this family figures out the puzzle of life with a mind that won’t stop asking questions is a delight, and the story lends itself beautifully to conversations about careers, gender roles, science and the scientific process, as well as drawing out plenty of laughter over the mayhem. Budding young scientists and their parents will find a copy of this book, and the others in the series, at the Grand Forks & District Public Library, in the picture book collection.
More discussion and reviews of this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28507895

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Looking for Jane, by Heather Marshall (2022)

Historical Fiction | Adult

Looking for Jane, by Heather Marshall (2022)

Without intending to, I’ve now read a third book that involves unwanted children and searching for family. Perhaps there’s a theme emerging in today’s literature, a longing for connection and a way to unite those who have become separated from us. Fodder for another discussion, but an interesting thing to ponder. I began reading this compelling new Canadian title just over a week ago, by eerie coincidence on the very morning of the day the news broke of a possible U.S. Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade, the law that made access to abortion legal for our sisters to the south. This is at its heart, a book about motherhood, or rather, about wanting and not wanting children. It is a big, ambitious tale about the underground network of safe abortion providers that operated in many North American cities in the 1970s and in Canada at least, also in the 1980s, until safe access was legalized late in the decade. There was in Chicago a name for this network, the Jane network. Author Marshall opted to use that name in this story, set in Toronto, for both the network and for a baby born in the 1960s to an unmarried young woman. Decades later, baby Jane learns she was adopted and searches for answers. There’s a bookstore worker, trying desperately to get pregnant, who in 2017 finds a misdirected letter and tries to give it to its intended recipient. A doctor with a strong personal motivation joins the Jane network in the 1970s, determined to give women choices and a safe procedure. I told you this was an ambitious tale! But debut author Marshall completely pulls it off, providing a nuanced and compassionate story that illuminates the terrible decisions so many women have been forced to make, by parents, society, and/or their own circumstances, and the long ramifications of those decisions. There’s a line in the book, often used in the abortion rights movement, that emphasizes the importance of motherhood by choice, and of all children being wanted children. As the abortion debate appears to be rising again, this novel is perfectly timed, providing a picture of what life was like a half century ago for women facing unwanted pregnancies, and why so many women worked tirelessly to make sure motherhood is a carefully considered choice. First-time author Marshall has created a powerful novel that captures the pain, longing, and history of this issue for Canadian women, drawing on true stories to inspire the tale. Along with an afterword by the author, the book includes a group discussion guide. My thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing a digital reading copy through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion. Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library has added a copy to its adult fiction collection, as well as an e-book and e-audiobook editions.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58750615

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Oregon and Washington’s Roadside Ecology: 33 Easy Walks Through the Region’s Amazing Natural Areas, by Roddy Scheer (2022)

Nonfiction | Adult

Oregon and Washington's Roadside Ecology: 33 Easy Walks Through the Region's Amazing Natural Areas, by Roddy Scheer (2022)

Road trips with me are a test of patience, as I view such journeys as opportunities to stop and explore, and stop and stop! This handbook highlights just a delightful few of the fascinating places to explore and discover if you take the time to stop. Mr. Scheer, we are kindred spirits indeed, and I was delighted to discover this loving tribute to the places that make me put on the brakes. The book is nicely organized, divided into two sections, Oregon (15 entries) and Washington (18 entries). Within each section are walks through accessible roadside natural attractions that explore each state in a roughly counterclockwise direction, starting in the northwest coastal corner of each state and finishing in the northeast. In the digital version I examined, the sections are colour-coded making it easy to distinguish the sections via the page edges. Nice touch, Timber Press! The walks tackle a myriad of natural wonders, from beach dunes, waterfalls and caves to bogs and mountain ridges. While there are a few spots found off the major interstate Highway 5, most of the trails are off the more interesting and smaller routes along the coast or inland, including my own favourites Highway 97 and 395. Though I’ve spent a lot of time in this area, Scheer has revealed some new places that I’m excited to discover on a future trip. To examine the content, I turned to two places I know well, Smith Rock in Oregon and Hurricane Ridge in Washington. Each entry is 8-10 pages long, so while the book features only 33 destinations, you get a lot of information on each of the trails. It begins with factual info like difficulty and length, and then, after information on finding the trailhead, moves into a narrative-style step-by-step description of the trail, including fascinating natural information to inform the explorer of the area’s prehistory, formation, and modern flora and fauna. There are colour photos throughout, including full-page ones, making this a book to read before you plan your route as well as one to keep tucked in the door pocket of your vehicle so it’s there at every stop. Following about 300 pages of the trail descriptions is a list of plant and animal species by common name, followed by the Latin name. Even that is fascinating reading – under Animals, I found something called a California sister (it’s a butterfly). The list is not easy to navigate unless you know the specific common name; loons are listed as Common Loon or Pacific Loon, for instance; rattlesnakes are found under Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. There’s also a reference list, acknowledgements and photo credits, and, I was delighted to see, an extensive index spanning nearly 20 pages, providing references and cross-references to all the species you learn about in the aforementioned list, as well as trail names, locations, and natural landforms. I will be buying a print copy of this great resource to keep in my car, for sure! My thanks to Timber Press for the digital copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this title: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56271444

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Black Cake, by Charmaine Wilkerson (2022)

Fiction | Adult

Black Cake, by Charmaine Wilkerson (2022)

When estranged siblings return home to bury their mother, they learn startling and life-changing truths about her life and theirs, shattering their trust in all they have believed. Byron and Benny (Bennedetta) Bennett haven’t seen each other since before their father died five years ago. Their mother Eleanore leaves a recording, and a frozen container of the family’s beloved black cake, with instructions the two are to listen to the recording together, and when the time comes, to share the cake. “You’ll know,” she says mysteriously. As the recording plays, Benny and Byron are shocked at the revelations and secrets she discloses, learning their parents had been running from the law, and that the family stories they’d been told were carefully constructed ones. In a tale that takes the reader back more than half a century to a Caribbean isle, and then across the Atlantic, Wilkerson gently and sensitively addresses themes of race, sexism, loyalty, love, grief, identity and even cultural appropriation in food. It’s an ambitious tale, and while it occasionally pushes the boundaries of credulity, Wilkerson, a journalist by trade, stickhandles the topics exceptionally well, especially for a debut novel, though she does tend to overexplain on occasion. Her research, outlined in an afterword, is exceptional. I particularly enjoyed the discussions of the food diaspora, the Caribbean history of migration, and Benny’s struggle to find acceptance and her place in the world and in her family. The narrative shifts point of view and time, so you need to read those chapter headings carefully. It’s hard to classify this, as it’s both historical and contemporary, and there’s even a murder mystery. While it’s for an adult audience, there is crossover appeal for older teens, as some key incidents happen to characters in their teens and twenties. I anticipate some awards for this first novel, and enjoyed it to the very end. My thanks to Ballantine Books for the digital reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. You’ll also find a copy on the adult fiction shelves, and in the e-collection, at the Grand Forks & District Public Library.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57926137

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The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen (2018)

Historical Mystery | Adult

The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen (2018)

Hugo Langley is a British pilot whose warplane crashes over Tuscany late in 1944; he survives thanks to a parachute, but is too injured to make an escape. He drags himself into an olive grove and there he is found by a young Tuscan woman. Despite Italy’s nominal status as an Axis power, she and the local villagers are sympathetic to the Allies, having borne the brunt of German soldiers’ brutality. With her help, he slowly recovers, hidden in an abandoned, bombed out monastery on a hill. Flash forward nearly 30 years, and Hugo, now an impoverished British nobleman who has lost the family estate, has just died. His daughter Joanna arrives to pack up her father’s meagre belongings, and discovers a love letter, returned to her father as undeliverable, to an Italian woman. Adding to the shock is a reference to their beautiful boy. A brother? Joanna knew her father had been injured in Italy, but had he taken a lover? Having recently broken up with her boyfriend, Joanna sets off to Italy hoping to find the truth behind her father’s past. The story weaves back and forth between the two timelines, slowly revealing information to move the plot along. Bowen skilfully plays with parallel threads – a stranger arrives, a time of feasting, a shaking of the earth – as the reader slowly learns Hugo and Sofia’s story of love, betrayal, and heartbreak. Like Hugo and then his daughter, we fall in love with the Italian people and their country; before the book was done I was exploring longstay options in Italy!! The descriptions of the landscape are lovingly written, the plot is complex but not overwrought, and the slow blossoming of love in both timelines is tender and sweet. My thanks to the Grand Forks & District Public Library for obtaining this standalone mystery for me via interlibrary loan.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36175491

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The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy (2019)

Graphic Novel | 10-Adult

What a delightful ode to kindness, friendship, and companionship! This is an illustrated book, a full-length picture book of sorts, that will appeal to all ages – I’ve bought several copies, one for a teen, one for a senior, and one for a young adult. I’m confident it will touch all their hearts as it has done mine. Mackesy handwrote the text (it’s a form of cursive which could be challenging for younger readers unused to the swoops and swirls) and drew the images that, as he writes in his introduction, are key to his understanding and appreciation of text: “It’s surprising that I’ve made a book because I’m not good at reading them. The truth is I need pictures, they are like islands, places to get to in a seas of words.” What follows is a beautiful story of a lonely boy who meets a mole, and together they share ideas about the world and how to live well: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “Kind,” said the boy.” Or this truth: “What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy. “Help,” said the horse. Here is an image I took of one page, giving you a sense of the wonder and the gentleness of the story (not to mention the cursive!):

They meet a fox in a trap (a node to the fable about the lion and the mouse) and then a horse, and together this unlikely foursome share what they have learned about life, love, fear, and gratitude, each learning from the other. I do think you need to be in the right place to understand the power of this little book; some may find it banal, but I believe it will ring true and powerful for those who need to hear its message. It’s a sweet readaloud for a child, too.Most of the images are pencil drawings in black and white, a few are washed with colour, and some are carefully rendered in beautiful detail. There’s also a tea stain and a page splattered by a muddy paw. Talk about acceptance and finding silver linings – I’m in awe of Mr. Mackesy’s serenity. Not sure my dog would have gotten such credit from me, lol! For Grand Forks pals, there’s a copy of this in the library’s graphic novel collection for adults. Read it, and let me know what you think. I bet you’ll buy it.
More discussion and reviews of this title: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/45449855

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Escape by Bike: Adventure Cycling, Bikepacking and Touring Off-Road, by Joshua Cunningham (2018)

Nonfiction | 16-Adult

A planned biketouring trip in Eastern Europe is currently on hold, for obvious reasons. But because preparation is, for me, a key part of the joy and raison d’ĂȘtre of travel, I am still doing my research, and was pleased to discover this relatively new title through interlibrary loan. The book is an interesting hybrid of biketouring advice and travel photos, taken during the author’s own trip from England, across Europe and into Asia. The organization is a bit rough – the sections are geographical, but also touch on specific biking topics, from urban riding to cycling in mountains, forests, the tropics, and deserts. Within those sections are about six related topics to ensure your trip is successful, from budgeting and safety to choosing whether to cycle solo or with a companion. Each topic is addressed in one or two pages. As a result, about one-fifth of the 250 or so pages is a how-to-guide; the rest is a descriptive narrative loaded with full-colour photos, which explains its C$40 price tag. It’s so personalized that it lacks the depth I was seeking, beyond the how-to basics, so I would argue the subtitle is a bit misleading. There is a Resources section at the end, but no index, which I find especially irritating since I was mostly interested in photos of and references to Eastern Europe, glossed over in the few pages that covered the trek from the U.K. to Azerbaijan. The photos were fascinating, and prompted me to focus my plans on a smaller section so I can enjoy the entire experience and allow time for my own photography. It won’t be for some time, perhaps a long time, but I am hopeful. My thanks to the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library for obtaining this title for me via interlibrary loan.
More discussion and reviews of this title: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35407470

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Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught in America, by Katie Worth (2021)

Nonfiction | Adult

Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught in America, by Katie Worth (2021)

My decision to read this book emerges from my growing interest in (read horror at) the politicisation of facts and science that took hold first in the U.S., and more recently in Canada. It’s a natural progression, I think, from the information I gathered, some three years ago now, from Prius or Pickup: How the Anwers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide, and just last year, Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire. Investigative journalist Worth delves deeply into the current state of climate education in primary and secondary education in America. She did her research – she reviewed dozens of textbooks, built a 50-state database, and visited children and teachers around the country to learn just what kids are taught in the classroom. She unveils what is effectively a red state/blue state division; where you live determines how well you will be taught climate science, if at all. Like tobacco companies did with cigarettes and cancer, Big Oil and its interests are trying to sway young people’s understanding of the causes of climate change by funding schools, pressuring politicians and publishers, and engaging in outright lies and obfuscation. As a result, more than one in three young adults in the U.S. believes climate change is natural, and a full quarter of those under 18 don’t think it’s an “emergency” – “a rate higher than any other nation surveyed in Western Europe or North America,” says Worth in her introduction. Even in northern California, which has been devastated by wildfires due to year after year of drought, classrooms are filled with kids who believe what their parents tell them: it’s not real. Worth’s research reveals that it’s not simply Republicans versus Democrats, though; there’s a concerted effort to marshall support from the religious right as well as the conservatives who favour unfettered capitalism and put the economy above all. If you aren’t angry and horrified when you read this, you missed the point. While the criticism is sharply focused on U.S. classrooms, Canada gets some attention, including a comment on a Fraser Institute booklet of questionable lesson plans on climate change. There is hope, as Worth offers an epilogue reminding readers of dedicated teachers around the country who are working to help students develop critical thinking skills and a desire to make a difference, and are standing up to the funding sources that come with unacceptable expectations. The book includes a lengthy footnote section, much of it annotated, along with an annotated list of resources. It’s published by Columbia Global Reports, a publishing imprint that produces up to six ambitious works of journalism and analysis a year, each on a different, underreported story in the world. My thanks for the digital copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this title: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58751011

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The Violin Conspiracy, by Brendan Slocumb (2022)

Mystery | Adult

The Violin Conspiracy, by Brendan Slocumb (2022)

Ray McMillian is a talented Black violinist preparing to compete in the prestigious international Tchaikovsky competition, when someone steals his precious violin. The one his beloved grandmother gave him, that belonged to her grandfather, a slave who received it from his master when he was freed. The one no one else wanted to learn to play until Ray picked up a school violin and fell in love with its sound. (“Making all that noise,” his demanding mother says with derision, wanting him to take a job and pay her some rent instead of going to college.) When Grandma Nora gave him the violin, it was dusty, warped, and needed repair, but it was Ray’s. And, it turned out, it was extremely valuable. A Stradivarius. So when the violin is stolen, the insurance company steps in with its own detectives, along with the FBI, looking to find the culprits and return the instrument. Meanwhile, somehow, Ray has to keep practising for the competition, knowing racism means he has to work twice as hard to earn a place in the competition. But he reminds himself of Grandma Nora’s advice: “You stand up, you respect yourself, and you be respectful. That’s how you win.” Honestly, I wasn’t sure how interesting a violin theft would be, but oh how wrong I was. This a riveting, multilayered mystery, packed with motives and clues along with painful and complex family dynamics, determination and self-loathing, and the importance of kindness and offers of help. It’s modern, it’s fast-paced, and it’s brutally honest. As a high school music educator, author Slocumb’s expertise is evident, delivered with just the right balance of detail and nuance. I learned so much about music, but in a way that felt natural rather than instructive perhaps because so much of this story is his own. His afterword is loaded with thank yous – a humble teacher who has, I hope, a lot more stories in him. I thoroughly enjoyed this! My thanks to Anchor Books for the digital reading copy provided in exchanged for my honest review. There’s also a copy in the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library’s large-print collection, as well as its e-book collection.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58386733

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