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 of this post

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Zero Repeat Forever, by G.S. Prendergast (2017)

Science Fiction
14-18
Zero Repeat Forever, by G.S. PrendergastCalgary teens Raven, her boyfriend Tucker, and Tucker’s twin Topher are all sent to do community service as camp counsellors in the Alberta foothills of the Canadian Rockies. While they are in training, aliens called Nahx invade Earth, and the teen campers are left to fend for themselves. Their only hope is to hunker down, “sheltering in place” and wait for a rescue, but weeks pass and no one comes. When a Nahx kills Tucker while he is on a hunt for food, Raven and Topher swear revenge. But are all the Nahx killers? Eighth is a Nahx who struggles against the directives to “Dart the humans. Leave them where they fall.” When Eighth uncovers Raven’s hiding place, he chooses to not dart her, but instead protects her from the other Nahx. 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 Lauras, by Sara Taylor (2017)

Contemporary Fiction
16-Adult
The Lauras by Sara TaylorAlex’s mother hits the road in the middle of the night after a final fight with her husband. It’s not the first time she has taken off, but this time it’s with pubescent Alex, who struggles with Ma’s decision to leave without telling Dad where they are going. It is the start of a years-long journey crisscrossing the United States as Ma reconnects with significant people and places from her past, settling debts and scores and fulfilling long-ago promises. The title refers to the Lauras Ma has known throughout her life, giving Taylor a useful device for slowly revealing key events in Ma’s own story. The book is narrated in the first person by Alex, some 30 years hence, though it is set in this century. 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

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

Super Sikh, No. 1, by Eileen K. Alden, Supreet S. Manchanda, and Amit Tayal (2015)

Adventure/Thriller (comic book)
15 to Adult
Super Sikh, No. 1Hey superhero fans – aren’t we long overdue for a badass hero with a turban? Supreet Singh Manchanda and Eileen Kaur Alden launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring their idea to life, and reached their target in just 27 hours! With the help of illustrator Amit Tayal, they launched the first issue in 2015, and have now released the fourth issue. First, it’s not a full-length graphic novel, but rather your traditional comic book, a la Superman and Spiderman. It’s 24 pages of full-colour panels, and issue one, Takeoff and Landing, introduces readers to Deep Singh, our hero, who works for the United Nations Global Unified Defense Force protecting the world on secret agent missions. Read more of this post

Speed of Life, by Carol Weston (2017)

Contemporary Fiction
11-15
Speed of Life, by Carol WestonHave a tween/early teen daughter? Run out and get her this book now. omg I loved it! Sofia is deeply mourning her mother’s sudden death less than a year ago. She misses her mother so much, and her presence is everywhere, from the school Sofia attends where her mother was a teacher to the New York City apartment where Sofia lives with her gynecologist Dad. They’ll have to move out soon, though, as the apartment is for faculty members only, and well, she’s gone. At 14, Sofia has a lot of questions about life, love, sex, friends, clothes and more. Even though Dad is a gynecologist, Sofia can’t talk to him about such things. When Fifteen magazine’s advice columnist Dear Kate comes to Sofia’s school, she feels a connection and begins to email her about everything from first kisses to a pimple she finds “down there.” Read more of this post

See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng (2017)

Contemporary
11-14
See You in the Cosmos, by Jack ChengI cheerfully admit to being a low-level space geek, and I can pinpoint my interest precisely to September 1977, when Voyager II and Voyage I (yup, in that order) were launched into space in search of interstellar pals. Each spacecraft carried a Golden Record intended to introduce any intelligent life to life on Earth. Eleven-year-old Alex Petroski has decided to launch Voyager III, complete with a Golden iPod filled with his own recordings for aliens to discover. Overtly a transcript of his recordings, this creative heart-filled novel tells the story of Alex’s remarkable journey over several days, both literally and figuratively. Literally, he and his beloved pup Carl Sagan travel from his home in Colorado to the Southwest High Altitude Rocket Festival in Albuquerque where Alex will launch his homemade rocket into space. Read more of this post

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 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

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

Two Strikes, by Johnny Boateng (2017)

Contemporary
11-15
Two Strikes by Johnny BoatengThis realistic contemporary story tackles the related themes of racism, sexism and bullying as KalLeah (Kal), a Grade 8 girl of mixed race, struggles to fit in when her RCMP father is transferred from multicultural Halifax to the small town of Trail in British Columbia’s gorgeous Kootenays. Writer Boateng draws on his own experience in this high interest, low reading level (hi-lo) sports novel. Kal is a top-notch ballplayer and scorns the girls’ softball team in favour of the all-boys – at least for now – Trail All-Stars baseball team. Her attempts to prove herself result only in alienating the popular Valley Girls on the girls’ team, leading to cruel insults and cyberbullying. Read more of this post

The Bitter Side of Sweet, by Tara Sullivan (2016)

Grit Lit
13-16
The Bitter Side of Sweet, by Tara SullivanAmadou is 13 years old when he leaves home with his little brother Seydou in search of work. A lengthy drought has left the fields of Mali dry and barren, and though Seydou is only six, Amadou knows one less mouth to feed will help his father and aunt survive. The boys are “hired” to work a cacao plantation, only to discover they are somehow deeply in debt to the owners. “The bosses said we could leave when we’d earned out our purchase price,” Amadou eventually explains. “But they wouldn’t tell me how much we owed, and in all the time we worked there, I only saw boys arrive or die, never leave when they wanted to. And we never once got paid.” Read more of this post