Invisible Dead, by Sam Wiebe (2017)

Mystery
Adult
Invisible Dead, by Sam WiebeVancouver is known for its sky-high real estate, spectacular setting, multicultural population and a generally laid-back and accepting attitude. Also pretty good soccer team, a football team that would be better if they hadn’t traded Andrew Harris, and a hockey team that is quite likely, to be kind, in a rebuilding year. It also has a significant drug problem, homeless numbers that are climbing every year, and a shameful history of an uncaring attitude toward missing and murdered prostitutes who are often Indigenous women. So it’s a real story that fuels the plot of this mystery that is the first in a new series starring the flawed but deeply principled private investigator Dave Wakeland. Read more of this post

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Tales from the Back Bumper: A Century of BC Licence Plates (2013)

Nonfiction
13-Adult
Tales from the Back Bumper by Christopher GarrishWhat is it about licence plates that is so fascinating? I still play the childhood game of checking off as many provinces and states whenever we are on a road trip. (Tip – go to national parks and scour the parking lots.) Garrish’s interest has been lifelong, but the book is a project that emerged from his tendency to take a break from his master’s thesis research to explore licence plates in various archives. He launched a website and that led to the book, which includes a foreword by former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, whose government provided the pretty veteran’s plates and the controversial Olympic plates preceding the 2010 Olympic Games hosted in Vancouver. Read more of this post

Install Your Own Solar Panels, by Joseph Burdick and Philip Schmidt (2017)

Nonfiction
Adult
Install Your Own Solar Panels, by Joseph Burdick and Philip SchmidtWe have been using solar to power our little campervan for several years now, with spectacular success, keeping the wee fridge going strong and powering up batteries for all our devices! Now that we have moved away from the Wet Coast to a sun-drenched clime, we are looking into the challenges of going solar at home. Our librarian knows of my interest and bought this title (so awesome! right?!!) from Storey Publishing, known for its well-designed how-to titles with a “simple living” and environmental focus. Anyway, this book is intended for homeowners who, like me, don’t know much about the science of solar, but can handle basic tools and follow instructions. Read more of this post

Chemistry, by Weike Wang (2017)

Contemporary Fiction
Adult
Chemistry, by Weike WangMy work at UBC included time advising graduate students, a small number of whom were pursuing PhDs. I can attest they are (obvs) brilliant, thoughtful, and dedicated to their research. Frequently they are also full of self-doubt, exhausted, and terrified of what the future will bring (or not, in the case of tenured job prospects). This book is a tragi-comedie about the struggle and breakdown of one PhD student at a Boston university. You’d think humour would be scarce in a story of a mental breakdown, but Wang finds plenty of ways to make the reader burst out laughing. Told in the first person, the story has only one named character – Eric, who like our protagonist, is completing a PhD in chemistry. Read more of this post

The Animators, by Kayla Rae Whitaker (2016)

Contemporary
Adult
The Animators by Kayla Rae WhitakerIn The Animators, two young women meet in a drawing class at a posh upper New York college and discover a shared background of what one character calls their “white trashiness.” Mel Vaught is outgoing, brash, and fearless, and wants to be a cartoonist. Sharon Kisses is quiet and talented, but oh so full of doubt. But both are fiercely ambitious, and by graduation they are not only best friends but business partners in creating animation. They also share troubled childhoods; Mel draws to understand her past, and Sharon draws to escape it. Ten years later, now living in New York City, Mel and Sharon find critical success with their first full-length feature, based on Mel’s difficult childhood with a hooker mother and a series of misbehaving “stepdads.” Read more of this post

My Life with Bob, by Pamela Paul (2017)

Nonfiction
Adult
My Life with Bob, by Pamela PaulThe title is a pun, it’s a book about reading books, and my spouse is nicknamed Bob. How could I resist??! And what a great premise. Our reading choices say so much about us. Imagine how well a stranger would understand you if she could only browse through all the books you’d read. Well, Paul has essentially opened herself up to us in just this way. Currently the editor of The New York Times Book Review, Paul is also the author of three other works of nonfiction, The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony; Pornified: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families ; and Parenting, Inc.: How the Billion-Dollar Baby Business Has Changed the Way We Raise Our Children. By those titles alone I think she’d make a fascinating dinner guest. But wait, there’s more! Read more of this post

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 of this post

Still Life, by Louise Penny (2005, 2015)

Mystery
Adult
Still Life by Louise PennyMy good friend John has been recommending this series for two years. When I spotted Still Life, the first entry in the Inspector Gamache series, on the shelves at my local Grand Forks Public Library, I decided to give it a try. This is an anniversary edition, and included a foreword by the author and an informative profile of the author and this debut mystery by James Kidd as an afterword. There are now 12 titles in the series, I believe,and each has won several awards. Still Life introduces Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete de Quebec. He is a thoughtful, kind, and astute homicide investigator who mentors his team and has earned the high respect of underlings, colleagues and boss, though we learn he seems to be stuck career-wise. Read more of this post

The Goat, by Anne Fleming (2017)

Contemporary Fiction
9-12
The Goat, by Anne FlemingEleven-year-old Kid moves from Toronto to New York City for a six-month stay while her actor/screenwriter mother works on an off-Broadway production. Teacher Dad is going to work on his own play while homeschooling Kid, which includes daily visits to various NYC museums. They are staying in cousin Doug’s apartment just off Central Park, looking after his dog Cat while Doug is in Europe. When Kid discovers the rumour of a good-luck goat on top of the building, she teams up with new friend Will to find out the truth. Along the way, Fleming switches voices so the diverse residents in the building get to share their stories, including the goat himself! Read more of this post

Cold Girl, by R. M. Greenaway (2016)

Mystery
Adult
Cold Girl, by R.M. GreenawayI feel a bit ashamed that my interest in this debut Canadian mystery was first piqued by the fact its plot is loosely based on the real-life tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women on the Yellowhead Highway west of Prince George known as the Highway of Tears. Additionally, the author is from Nelson, a nearby West Kootenay town, which is still in B.C. but a good 1500 kms from where she has set this mystery. (That’s how big our gorgeous province is.) Anyway, the “local” setting intrigued me and I picked up a copy from my library. This is the first in a series, and number 2 has just been issued, under the title Undertow. In the series debut, several very different cops are investigating the disappearance of a popular singer, Kiera Rilkoff. Read more of this post

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, by Margriet Ruurs (2016)

Picture Book
3-10, with appeal for all ages
Stepping Stones by Margriet RuursWhen Canadian picture book author Margriet Ruurs first saw Nizar Ali Badr’s artwork made of river stones, she was instantly captivated. How could a handful of river rock speak so eloquently? But they do! And Orca Books’ pairing of Ruurs’ touching narrative with Badr’s art has resulted in a stunning picture book that will delight readers of all ages. The book opens with Rama and Sami enjoying childhood in Syria, a life of school and fruit and tea and family and neighbours. But when bombs start to fall, the community breaks apart. 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 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

Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead? Ed. Rudyard Griffiths (2016)

Nonfiction
Adult
Do Humankind's Best Days Lie Ahead?The semi-annual Munk Debates bring some of the world’s biggest thinkers and personalities together to talk about big issues and ideas. Normally the focus is on current news topics, but in November 2015, Canadians Steven Pinker and Malcolm Gladwell squared off against each other, each with a European colleague, to tackle the idea of progress. In “Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead?” Pinker and British journalist Matt Ridley take the pro side, asserting that thanks to everything from cellphones to clean water, we are indeed making steady progress and we are living, collectively speaking, better lives than ever. Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton joins Gladwell in presenting the nay view, pointing to the wealth gap, natural disasters and deadly conflicts as proof that life is different but not better, and our path forward is a dark one. Read more of this post