The Music Shop, by Rachel Joyce (2017, 2018)

Romance
Adult
The Music Shop, by Rachel JoyceWe who love to share books know all about “Read-Alikes” – lists of book suggestions for those who want ideas on what to read next, based on a title they adored. Rachel Joyce, author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and others, has created the music shop equivalent to a read-alike list. Set in 1988 on down-at-its-heels Unity Street somewhere in England, Frank runs his store using the idea of what I might call “listen-alikes.” The records are organized, if you can call it that, to encourage serendipitous musical discovery – “If you like Genesis, trust me. You’ll love Mendelssohn.” Frank also uses music to help people, a kind of music therapy. When a customer with a broken heart comes in looking for Chopin, Frank convinces him to try Aretha Franklin’s Oh No Not My Baby. Read More »

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

Short Stories
7-Adult
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 This collection of holiday stories was put together by Rea Wilmshurst, who found a number of unpublished stories in the late 1970s at Montgomery’s birthplace.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 »

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

Mystery
15-Adult
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 »

Baseball Bats for Christmas, by Michael Kusugak (1990, 2017)

Children’s Fiction
5-9
Baseball Bats for Christmas by Michael KusugakWhat fun it is to discover a classic for the first time! The 2017 reissue of this popular children’s picture book gave me the chance to finally read this award-winning Inuit story, based on the author’s own lived experience. When the bush pilot Rocky Parsons delivers a load of Christmas trees in 1955, the children of Repulse Bay are intrigued. Only Peter knows what they are. “Standing ups,” he declares, having seen them in pictures shown him by Father Didier. Asked what they are for, he simply shrugs. But when someone gets a ball for Christmas, the purpose of these standing ups becomes clear to the children – standing ups are ideal for making baseball bats! Read More »

The Massacre of Mankind, by Stephen Baxter (2017)

Science Fiction
13-Adult
Massacre of Mankind by Stephen BaxterWhat if the Martians came back? That is the premise of this sci-fi novel by Stephen Baxter, billed as an ‘authorised’ sequel to H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. The story opens 13 years after the end of Wells’ classic tale. I do recommend reading the original story prior to starting this one, if you haven’t done so recently. It really helps with understanding the relationships between people in this book, as Baxter’s story revives the same characters. While the narrator in War of the Worlds was never named, he appears here as Walter Jenkins, and it is his former sister-in-law, Julie Elphinstone, a journalist who was one of the two women Walter’s brother “rescued” in his 1907 escape from the Martians, who serves as the narrator in this one. Read More »

Lucky Broken Girl, by Ruth Behar (2017)

Historical
9-12
Lucky Broken Girl, by Ruth BeharIt’s so much fun to read “historical” novels set in a time you can almost call your own childhood! Alas, I’m a little too young to remember go go boots, which is what 11-year-old Ruthie has her heart set on. But life is challenging for a Jewish-Cuban immigrant family in 1960s New York City, and Papa already works hard to feed and care for his family. Mami misses Cuba terribly, but tries to hide it as lamenting her homeland only annoys her husband who deeply values the freedom of life in America after Castro’s Communist takeover of the family’s business. Ruthie understands both points of view, but like her mum, cherishes her memories of Cuba, though they are fading more quickly than she’d like. Read More »

Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday and the Power of a Protest Song, by Gary Golio (2017)

Nonfiction
6-12
Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday and the Power of a Protest Song, by Gary GolioMy undergraduate degree is in history. That’s big, so my focus was on the modernist “movement” which swept across Europe and then North America, roughly 1880-1939, impacting everything from politics to literature and art. Protest songs were key to our studies of American civil rights history, of course, and one of the pieces of music we used was Strange Fruit, recorded by the incredible jazz singer Billie Holliday. I didn’t know the song, and so it was a shock to me to learn that the strange “fruit” are in fact the dead bodies of lynching victims. It is a powerful song, a lament and a call to action in its time. It became known as Billie’s signature song, and this picture book for older children introduces readers to the song and its origins, in a way that is age appropriate. Read More »