The Great Outdoors: A User’s Guide, by Brendan Leonard (2017)

Nonfiction
13-Adult
This is the perfect introduction to all things outdoorsy for that person on your list (or yourself) who wants to “get out more” but has no clue how to go about doing it. Think of this sizable tome (300+ pages) like a benevolent uncle sharing wisdom to make sure you will not only survive in the wild but will have a great time out there. The book is organized into six sections, and each one includes discussion of basic safety, techniques, gear, and some helpful tips on everything from how to drive in the snow to having sex in a tent. Not being a Canadian, of course he doesn’t touch the topic of making love in a canoe. Some things are better left to the experts. Read more of this post

Welcome to the Farm: How-to Wisdom from the Elliott Homestead, by Shaye Elliott (2017)

Nonfiction
Adult
Welcome to the Farm: How-to Wisdom from the Elliott Homestead by Shaye ElliottThis isn’t the first book on homesteading I’ve reviewed, but it’s certainly one of the best. Shaye Elliott began sharing her farmgirl dream in 2010 via a blog, and has created a compilation that is beautifully illustrated with full-colour photos and hand-drawn art. It’s also comprehensive and well organised, complete with a well done table of contents and an absolutely excellent index. Elliott opens with an introduction that explains how she, the granddaughter of an orchardist, managed to convince her non-farmer husband to move across the country and take up farming. She then gets down to business, starting with gardening, focusing primarily on how to build a potager or kitchen garden that will fully meet your family’s needs. Read more of this post

The News from the End of the World, by Emily Jeanne Miller (2017)

Contemporary
Adult
The News from the End of the World, by Emily Jeanne MillerThis is a stew of a family drama, and all the ingredients are there – sibling rivalry, teenaged drama, second marriages and flirty temptations. But it’s missing a little spice, resulting in a weeknight dinner offering rather than anything special. Forty-two-year-old Vance Lake is an adjunct prof who finds himself both homeless and jobless when he does something stupid at work. With no place to go, he lands on his twin brother’s doorstep in the middle of the night, unaware that Craig and Gina are coping poorly with their own family crisis. Daughter Amanda is home unexpectedly from South America, where she was sent in some strange kind of “punishment” for being caught with a joint in her senior year. Read more of this post

All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai (2017)

Science Fiction
Adult
All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan MastaiWhat a lot of fun this first novel turned out to be! Tom Barren lives in Toronto in a version of 2016 that is the future as it was envisioned in the 1950s – flying cars that rely on clean and unlimited energy, food replicators, disposable clothes that fit perfectly and are recycled into new ones, robots and peace. Oh, this world isn’t without its troubles, of course. His dad is a jerk, and his beloved mother was killed by a runaway hover car. (The robot that entered the programming error was dismantled.) Tom struggles with relationships and despite being 32 and the son of one of the smartest physicists around, who happens to invent a time travel device, he has not yet found his vocation. Read more of this post

On Turpentine Lane, by Elinor Lipman (2017)

Romance
Adult
On Turpentine Lane by Elinor LipmanI’ve read only one other book by Elinor Lipman, The Inn at Lake Devine, years before I started this blog, but I’ve never forgotten it. That says a lot about her writing, and I happily dove into this new offering. It doesn’t quite measure up to Lake Devine, in my view, but it’s a lovely choice for a bit of escapism in a winter that is sticking around longer than it should! The book opens with 30-something Faith Frankel deciding to buy a little house on, you guessed it, Turpentine Lane. Smitten by the two-storey home complete with a delightful pineapple newel post, Faith soon negotiates the buy from the owner’s distant daughter, as the actual owner, Mrs. Lavoie, is in hospital, having tried to commit suicide. Faith then finds out the woman’s first, second, and third husbands all died in the house. Read more of this post

The Lost City of the Monkey God, by Douglas Preston (2017)

Nonfiction
Adult
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas PrestonSet in a jungle teeming with deadly snakes, dengue fever, and drug traffickers, this is the story of an expedition to find a mythological and cursed “lost” city known as Ciudad Blanca (White City) or City of the Monkey God. Jungles, legends, snakes and curses – it’s exactly up Preston’s alley! In his always readable and riveting writing style, Preston describes the history of the legend and how it caught the attention of an American filmmaker, despite many failed efforts to find the fabled city. This time, technology boosts the odds. Using “lidar” (light detection and ranging), a team of scientists, with Preston aboard the rickety plane, conducts a series of flyovers of a portion of the Mosquitia region of Honduras, generating lidar images of the landscape hidden below the thick jungle canopy. Read more of this post

Best. State. Ever. by Dave Barry (2016)

Nonfiction
Adult
Best. State. Ever. by Dave BarryIt’s getting harder to find humour in what’s happening across the line, so I turned to an old stand-by who delivers exactly what I needed in his latest offering, subtitled A Florida Man Defends his Homeland. Humourist Barry, formerly known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columns, now publishes a series of children’s novels, as well as continuing to write books for adults like this one. In Best. State. Ever., Barry rejects the idea that Floridians are dumb, but accepts that it’s definitely the state of weird, starting with, natch, the 2000 election and its hanging chads. Read more of this post

The River at Night, by Erica Ferencik (2017)

Adventure
Adult
The River at Night, by Erica FerencikLooking for a scary read for a long winter’s evening? Sad from the recent loss of her brother and her marriage, timid Wini sets aside her many misgivings to join her three girlfriends in their annual week-long get-together led by the fearless Pia. This year, Pia has chosen a river rafting trip in the wilds of Maine. Along with emergency room nurse Rachel and teacher Sandra, the four women embark on a 30-mile rafting trip, led by handsome 20-year-old Rory, dreadlocked and muscled, with eyes “the exact green of an asparagus mousse” graphic designer Wini had featured in spring. He’s certainly irresistible to Pia, leading to a noisy hook-up that sets the friends squabbling. Read more of this post

The Art of Raising a Puppy, by the Monks of New Skete (1991, 2011)

Nonfiction
Adult
The Art of Raising a Puppy, by the Monks of New SketeIf a family puppy finds its way under your tree this year (either joining your household now, or as in our case, in spring) sprint to the store for a copy of this highly recommended classic puppy training book, recently updated and reissued for its 20th anniversary. The book was first written in 1991 by the monks of a New York state monastery with a breeding kennel. The monks’ approach is simple. Your dog is your companion, and it’s your responsibility to train your puppy.A well-behaved pooch doesn’t bark uncontrollably or jump on small children, responds to your command to leave that dead thing in the grass alone, and lies quietly even when you are eating at the table. So how do we get there? Read more of this post

Quilting Is My Therapy, by Angela Walters (2016)

Nonfiction
Adult
Quilting Is My Therapy, by Angela WaltersAs I embark on a new phase of my life, the prospect of quilting is both appealing and incredibly daunting. I love the idea of quilting – the time, patience, and frankly love that it takes to piece leftover scraps of fabric into a creation that is both beautiful and useful. The daunting part is that I’m worried I’ll never finish, or that it will look quite amateurish. So now you’ll understand why I picked up Walters’ book; in her introduction, she expresses a hope that the pictures will inspire rather than intimidate, and more to my point, she advises “don’t strive for perfection; strive for completion, remembering that a finished quilt is always better than a perfectly quilted [unfinished] one” (p.9, addition mine). Read more of this post

Murder Underground, by Mavis Doriel Hay (1934, 2016)

Mystery
Adult
Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel HayFans of Agatha Christie may be familiar with this British author who published three mysteries in the 1930s, this being the first one. The British Library has now released all three, leaving this one till last, and perhaps that says something. It’s a classic British whodunit from the era of Miss Marple, though this lacks a central character to nose out the clues. Instead, clues are slowly unveiled by the victim’s neighbours, family, and other connections, giving it an original approach that makes for a lively if somewhat convoluted read. It all begins when Miss Pongleton is found murdered on the deserted stairs of the North London underground station, strangled with her own dog’s leash. Read more of this post

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, by Fredrik Backman (2016)

Contemporary Fiction
Adult
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, by Fredrik BackmanGrandpa is sitting on a bench with his adored grandson Noah. They share a love of mathematics and space, as well as a wonderfully quirky sense of humour. (They exchange “unnecessary presents” – Grandpa’s favourite from Noah is the chocolate bar Noah had already eaten.) The bench is an imaginary one in Grandpa’s failing memory, scattered with the detritus of a life lived with love, passion, and some regret. Over the span of fewer than 80 pages, we learn about Grandpa’s life, how he fell in love and spent years tormenting his wife by hiding coriander plants in the garden, why the anchor by his shed sits on stones, and how mathematics has served as a pillar of comfort he now shares with Noah after raising a son who preferred words over numbers. Read more of this post

Fishbowl, by Bradley Somer (2015)

Contemporary Fiction
Adult
Fishbowl, by Bradley SomerIan is a goldfish longing for adventure. Life in a fishbowl can be tedious, after all, though Ian’s very poor memory and tiny brain relieve him of the burden of knowing just how boring his life is. But when opportunity presents, he makes a great leap out of the bowl. Over the balcony railing. And down the side of a 27-storey New York City apartment building. As he plunges toward the pavement, where the flashing lights of two ambulances are silently screaming an alarm, his gills forced closed as his velocity increases, Ian flashes past the windows of his fellow residents. And thus we are introduced to eight delightful characters Read more of this post

Anatomy of a Song, by Marc Myers (2016)

Nonfiction
15-Adult
Anatomy of a SongMusic historian Marc Myers has compiled an oral history that examines the back stories of, as the subtitle tells us, “45 Iconic Hits that Changed Rock, R&B, and Pop.” Spanning approximately 40 years of late 20th century music, the collection is bookended with two songs by men in search of love. It opens in 1952 with Lloyd Price’s debut release, the sorrow-filled “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” and wraps with the 1991 surprise hit “Losing My Religion” by alternative rock band R.E.M. In between we find Elvis (“Suspicious Minds”), The Kinks (“You Really Got Me), Joni Mitchell (for “Carey”, written in a cave in Crete), and many other familiar names. Read more of this post

Conversations with Maurice Sendak, edited by Peter C. Kunze (2016)

Nonfiction
Adult
Conversations with Maurice Sendak, edited by Peter KunzeHow does one capture the man who gave us Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and the joyful illustrations for A Hole Is to Dig? Who created stunning backdrops to modern productions of The Nutcracker and Hansel and Gretel? Who brought to life the beautiful play Brundibar and revealed its own tragic, heartbreaking story of creation? Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak ignored the conventions of the day when he emerged as an inventive illustrator whose work truly captured the capricious, joyful and rage-filled minds of children. Kunze, a doctoral student at the University of Texas, drew on an extensive set of source material in choosing the final 12 interviews that comprise this entry in the Literary Conversations series. Read more of this post