Summer, by Wenxuan Cao, illustrated by Rong Yu (2015, 2019)

Picture Book | 3-7

When a hot summer day on in the grasslands leaves a group of animals squabbling over the only spindly tree, it takes the simple scene of a father and son walking to give them a good solution – have each animal create shade for the next smaller one. Sure, the elephant ends up in full sun, but that’s exactly where he started anyway! This is a sweet story with big bold illustrations that will appeal to young readers, who will want to linger on the pages and study how each animal reacts to the changing storyline.

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Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna, by Mario Giordano (2016, 2019)

Mystery | Adult

Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna, by Mario Giordano (2016, 2019)

When I was a girl delving into adult mysteries after devouring Nancy Drew et al, I discovered a series called Mrs. Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman. (Amazing that I recall her name after nearly 40 years!!) An American widow seeking adventure in her senior years, she decides to apply to the CIA. But when dropping off her resume, she is mistaken for a real spy and is sent off on a dangerous mission. I am reminded of Mrs. Pollifax in Auntie Poldi, the sexy sixty-year-old sleuth who seduced, drank, bullied and persevered her way through the first muder on her adopted island of Sicily in Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions. Both women are resourceful and, like Miss Marple before them, keen observers of people’s hubris, frailties and quirks.

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All the Winters After, by SerĂ© Prince Halverson (2016)

Fiction | Adult

All the Winters After, by Seré Prince Halverson (2018)

This is a really tricky novel to classify – it’s a bit of a thriller, a romance, a family saga, and in some ways a mystery. Most importantly, though, it’s set in Alaska. Kachemak Winkel finds himself home again 20 years after he left, a young man deeply mourning his mother, father and brother when they were all killed in a plane crash. He is called home by his Aunt Snag, his father’s sister, who tells Kache (pronounced catch) that his grandmother has not long to live. While there, he goes to the family homestead, expecting to find the place in ruins as no one has even visited since he left. Instead, he finds it exactly as he left it, except for the Russian woman who is living in the house.

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The Red Address Book, by Sofia Lundberg (2019)

Historical Fiction

The Red Address Book, by Sofia Lundberg (2019)

How do we want to be remembered? Even close friends of many years are often surprised to learn our stories of growing up, of jobs had and lost, of paths taken and ignored. Doris is 96 years old; she has outlived all her friends and nearly all her family, and her days are spent in pain. The bright note in her life is a weekly Skype call to Jenny, her only living relative who is in America. Thumbing through her beloved red address book, given to her as a child by her father, Doris sees so many names crossed out, and remembers their stories and hers. She decides to write these stories down for Jenny, from her childhood in Sweden, modelling in Paris in the 1920s and 30s, falling in love, escaping to New York City with her sister when Hitler invaded France, and eventually returning to Stockholm where she now lives.

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My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

Contemporary Fiction

My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Sisters Korebe and Ayoola could not be more different. Korebe is a responsible nurse, level-headed and thoughtful. The younger Ayoola is beautiful, impulsive, and obsessed with her standing in social media. She’s also a sociopath. When Ayoola calls her sister for help in the middle of the night, Korebe knows what to do – bring gloves and bleach. This is the third boyfriend in a row who has died at Ayoola’s hands, but family comes first for Korebe. Until Ayoola’s next boyfriend is someone Korebe has deep feelings for. Now what? Dark humour abounds in this little novel, about 225 pages, set in modern-day Nigeria. I was reminded of Patrick deWitt’s brilliant The Sisters Brothers – it’s that kind of tongue-in-cheek scenario that will have you laughing when you should be horrified.

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Witness: Lessons From Elie Wiesel’s Classroom, by Ariel Burger (2018)


Witness: Lessons From Elie Wiesel's Classroom, by Ariel Burger (2018)

I first learned of Nobel Peace Prize winner, scholar, Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel when a professor assigned his memoir Night, a book I still have on my shelf, for a European history class. (We also watched Rome: Open City – awesome class.) Wiesel passed away in 2016, to our collective loss. The world needs more people like him, activists who coach world leaders toward peace rather than war, toward acceptance and love instead of fear and hate. Witness offers an understanding of this wise teacher through the eyes of Ariel Burger, his former teaching assistant. The focus is of the religious, spiritual, and philosophical discussions from his classes, learned mostly by students but occasionally by the teacher. Perhaps the best description of this book is in Wiesel’s own words to a class: “Whatever you learn, remember: the learning must make you more not less human.”

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An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good, by Helene Tursten (2018)

Mystery (Short Stories)

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good, by Helene Tursten

Well, here’s a surprising turn of events. If you are looking for a cosy mystery featuring a sharp-eyed nosy widow who solves the murder, this ain’t it. Eighty-eight-year-old Maud lives rent-free in Gothenburg, Sweden, in a highly coveted apartment, thanks to a decades-old agreement. With no family or friends, she surfs the Internet on a stolen laptop, travels the world drawing on a healthy savings account, and solves pesky problems with deadly precision. In this collection of five stories, Maud gets away with murder, thanks to a deadly combination of misanthropy, a mighty level of self-interest, a sharp intellect, and a ruthless willingness to use people’s assumptions about old ladies any time it suits her.

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