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

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

Rum Luck, by Ryan Aldred (2016)

Mystery
Adult
Rum Luck, by Ryan AldredCanadian Ben Cooper is in Costa Rica for his honeymoon. But the wedding is off, and instead of waking up with a smile, he comes to in jail with only a fuzzy memory of what happened the night before. Lots, it turns out. In a single booze-fueled evening, Ben developed a wobbly business plan and bought a beach bar with the money he and his bride had saved for a downpayment on a home, locked himself out of his account, lost his phone, and is now charged with the murder of the owner of the bar he just bought. His pal Victoria, a high-priced Toronto lawyer, flies in to bail him out, and with best man Miguel, the three try to determine what exactly happened that night. Read more of this post

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman, by Mamen Sanchez (2013, 2016)

Romance
Adult
The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus CraftsmanWhen Atticus Finchman is sent to Spain to close a literary magazine, he brings Earl Grey tea, an electric kettle and a proper British teacup. Tea, Atticus has learned, can solve nearly every problem, or at least give you the strength to deal with it. But tea is no match for the five fiery Spanish women whose livelihood is threatened, and they soon devise a scheme to distract the young Englishman from his assignment. But when no one hears from Atticus for three months, his father Marlow travels to Madrid to alert the police, and Inspector Manchego gets the case. Language barriers mis-steps, literary references, and a delightful cast of characters provide a promising start for this romantic mystery that includes an appearance by Ernest Hemingway. Read more of this post

The Quality of Silence, by Rosamund Lupton (2016)

Mystery
Adult
The Quality of SilenceWhen Yasmin Alfredson arrives at the Fairbanks airport, she is expecting her film photographer husband Matt. Instead, the Alaska State Police tell her he is one of 24 people killed in a fire that levelled the tiny remote village where he was staying the winter. She refuses to believe it, pointing to a dropped phone call in the middle of the U.K. night just before she and daughter Ruby flew out. Ignoring police entreaties to accept the painful evidence of his wedding ring and satphone in the ashes, Yasmin sets out for Anaktue, Ruby in tow. Planes are grounded due to weather, and she finds a trucker heading north who agrees to take them partway, accepting her story of meeting a tour group. Lupton’s characters are deeply affecting. Read more of this post

Lost & Found, by Brooke Davis, 2014, 2016

Contemporary Fiction
Adult
Lost&FoundSeven-year-old Millie Bird wears red rubber boots to match her red hair. Obsessed about death, she collects her observations in The Book of Dead Things. Entry one is a spider; number 28 is her dad. The story opens as Millie’s mother tells her to wait in the “Ginormous Underwear” section of an Australian department store, walking away in gold shoes. She never returns. After a couple of adventurous days and nights of waiting, Millie escapes the clutches of the store’s security and returns to an empty house. She befriends two elderly people, 87-year-old Karl the Touch Typist, who has himself escaped a nursing home, and crazy neighbour Agatha Pantha, a widow whose method of coping with grief is to yell. Loudly. At everyone. Read more of this post

Death in Brittany, by Jean-Luc Bannalec (2012, 2015)

Mystery
Adult
Death in BrittanyCommissaire Georges Dupin is responsible for policing the small Breton town of Concarneau, a fishing village on the Atlantic coast in the northeast corner of France. He’s been there nearly three years, since being banished from Paris for “certain disputes” with his superiors – the first clue that this bad-tempered cop will be an interesting character with little regard for the way things are done. He has accepted his fate, contentedly starting each day with several morning coffees and croissants at a pretty cafe devoid of annoying tourists. The morning of July 7, his custom is interrupted with a phone call from the irritating Inspector Labat informing him of a murder in nearby Point-Aven, a village whose top cop is on holiday. Read more of this post

Murder at Cape Three Points, by Kwei Quartey (2014)

Mystery
Adult
Murder at Cape Three PointsThere’s a lot to like about this third entry into the Insp. Darko Dawson series set in Ghana on the west coast of Africa, but holy hannah, there’s plenty that irritated me as well. The book opens when the bodies of a murdered couple are found in a sea-going canoe near an offshore oil rig. On hand to witness the grisly discovery is the couple’s niece, who happens to be a doctor on board the rig. Fiona and Charles Smith-Aidoo are more than aunt and uncle to Sapphire Smith-Aidoo; they practically raised her. When the local police force is unable to crack the case, the doctor uses her considerable influence to get the Criminal Investigation Department to send its best investigator from Accra to “offer assistance.” Read more of this post

The Land of Dreams, by Vidar Sundstol (2008, 2013)

Mystery
Adult
The Land of DreamsI stumbled across this series when the final book in the trilogy was released to NetGalley members. Intrigued by its description as an award-winning Norwegian crime novel set in the national forest of Minnesota, I found a copy at my local library and delved in. This first title in The Minnesota Trilogy was published in 2008, and translated into English by Tiina Nunnally for the 2013 release in North America. Lance Hansen is a police officer for the U.S. Forest Service, literally a cop in the woods. His normal work involves poachers and litterers. Until the morning a report of illegal camping leads him to discover two men, one dead. Both are naked, covered in blood, and both are Norwegian tourists. Read more of this post