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

Science Fiction
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


The Massacre of Mankind, by Stephen Baxter (2017)

Science Fiction
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 of this post

All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai (2017)

Science Fiction
All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan MastaiWhat a lot of fun this first novel turned out to be! Tom Barren lives in Toronto in a version of 2016 that is the future as it was envisioned in the 1950s – flying cars that rely on clean and unlimited energy, food replicators, disposable clothes that fit perfectly and are recycled into new ones, robots and peace. Oh, this world isn’t without its troubles, of course. His dad is a jerk, and his beloved mother was killed by a runaway hover car. (The robot that entered the programming error was dismantled.) Tom struggles with relationships and despite being 32 and the son of one of the smartest physicists around, who happens to invent a time travel device, he has not yet found his vocation. Read more of this post

The Boy Who Knew Too Much, by Commander S.T. Bolivar, III (2016)

The Boy Who Knew Too Much, Munchem Academy 1, by Commander S.T. Bolivar, IIIWhen Mattie Larimore accidentally steals a train (the only time he is caught in his entire criminal career), his father decides the 11-year-old is following too closely in his brother Carter’s footsteps, and sends him to the same reform school, Munchem Academy. As soon as he arrives, Mattie makes it his mission to get back home. He tries being good, but fails miserably when he reacts to a bully who is also his dorm-mate. Carter ignores his pleas for guidance. Mattie finds help in a pair of squabbling siblings, Caroline and Eliot. The three discover that beneath Munchem Academy is a lab that is taking the school’s reform mission to a whole new level. Read more of this post

Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch (2016)

Science Fiction
Dark Matter, by Blake CrouchThis will be a short review because too much information will spoil the story, and it’s a terrific one. First of all, let’s start with Schrodinger’s Cat – the philosophical puzzle that attempts to explain the idea of quantum superpositions – the cat in the box is BOTH dead and alive until the observer opens the box. One reality results and the other collapses. (That’s the best I can do. I’m a BA in History.) Or, think of a tree. From a single trunk grow branches, spawning more branches and on every branch are twigs and on each twig are leaves. Each leaf is the result of branching off the original trunk. Still with me? So in this story, Jason Dessen is a physics professor at a Chicago-area college who set aside his dreams of a Nobel Prize in Physics to marry Daniela and become a father to Charlie. Read more of this post

Wink Poppy Midnight, by April Genevieve Tucholke (2016)

WinkPoppyMidnightThis is one of the most engaging young adult books I’ve read in a while. Published in March, I expect accolades and awards to start appearing soon. Wink is the head-in-the-clouds bookworm who spins stories for her younger siblings, a happy family of dirty bare feet and wild strawberries with “golden milk,” a concoction of brown sugar and turmeric made on the stove. Poppy is the poor little rich girl whose parents ignore her, resulting in a beautiful “angel face baby” who is a cruel and spiteful manipulator and bully. Despite this, Midnight loves Poppy who can’t love anyone except herself. And this is why the book opens with Midnight’s confession: “The first time I slept with Poppy, I cried.” Read more of this post

The Versions of Us, by Laura Barnett (2015, 2016)

The Versions of Us by Laura BarnettDebut author Laura Barnett takes the “what if” concept and spins it into a complicated triptych – three versions of the lives of Eva Edelstein and Jim Taylor. The two first cross paths (literally) as 19-year-olds in 1958 in England when a dog dashes toward Eva on her bicycle. In two versions she crashes and Jim helps her up; in one she avoids the collision and while their eyes meet, they don’t. Yet. The three stories slowly play out, with the same events (births, parties, art exhibitions, funerals) occurring at the right time in each version, but with very different plots. The book spans more than 50 years (70 if you include the prologue). In each version they are a couple, but at different points, for different lengths, and with various levels of happiness. Read more of this post

The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge (2014, 2016)

The Lie Tree, by Frances HardingeAs embarrassing as it is to admit, I often find myself at odds with the selections for literary awards. I read them because a) everyone asks me if I’ve read it and b) expert readers have judged this a top contribution. But at least half the time, I’m left scratching my head, mystified as to why this book made the list. It’s happened again. Fourteen-year-old Faith is quietly seething under the Victorian constraints imposed by everyone from strangers to her adored father, the Rev. Erasmus Sunderly, who is also a natural scientist. Faith is a brilliant young scholar whose ambitions appear impossible to fulfill. Girls don’t know anything about the moon, her little brother informs her with sober sincerity. Read more of this post

The Passenger, by F. R. Tallis (2016)

The PassengerHow can anyone resist the idea of a haunted German submarine plying the waters of the Atlantic in the winter of 1941/1942? Sigfried Lorenz is the conflicted and flawed commander of U-330, a Nazi vessel battling the British during World War II. Lorenz is fighting a war he doesn’t believe in, longs for the arms of his Parisian lover, and cares deeply about the morale and safety of his crew. When a triple-encoded message orders U-330 to pick up two prisoners from a vessel off the coast of Iceland, the crew responds with speed, curious about the prisoners’ importance. One is a British submarine commander; the other is a Norwegian scholar, an expert in the Norse runes that fascinate Himmler and other Nazi leaders. Read more of this post

Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt (2016)

Speculative Fiction
Mr. SplitfootThe final installment in my recent spate of weird and wonderful reading choices! Creepy and riveting, this novel presents a dual storyline about 15 years apart. The Love of Christ! Home for orphans and abandoned children is led by a religious fanatic more interested in the state’s cheques than the kids. Ruth is alone, abandoned by the mother who scarred her face with bleach, and her older sister who aged out of the home. Nat entertains and comforts his foster siblings by channelling dead spirits, including Mr. Splitfoot. He and Ruth are befriended by Mr. Bell, a con man who sees their fun as a surefire moneymaker. They soon have bags of money, but a sinister character intent on marrying Ruth sends them running. Read more of this post

I Crawl Through It, by A.S. King (2015)

Surrealist Fiction
I Crawl Through ItDefinitely weird, often confusing, but ultimately fascinating and rewarding, this is a surreal psychological exploration of the minds and lives of four deeply troubled teens in suburban Pennsylvania who face gruelling test weeks even while their school receives daily bomb threats. Brilliant Stansi wears a lab coat everywhere, even on her family’s “vacations” to school shooting sites. Gustav is building an invisible helicopter. Lansdale is a modern-day Pinocchio except it’s her hair that grows with every lie. And China is a poet so damaged she has turned herself inside out. Their parents are absent and self-absorbed, blind to their sons’ and daughters’ pain and anxiety. Read more of this post

The Visitors, by Simon Sylvester (2014, 2015)

16 to Adult
The VisitorsHave a few days off and looking for something different? How about a spooky story set in the fog-limned Scottish isles? Few people visit the remote island of Bancree where 17-year-old Flora Cannon lives with her mother, stepdad and baby brother Jamie. The tapwater is dark with peat, and most folks work for the distillery, including Flo’s stepdad. Her boyfriend is a year older, and has just escaped Bancree for his first year at university. As expected, he dumps her forthwith. She’s not angry; she’s jealous. She has no friends her age on the island, and intends to slog through Grade 12 until she too can leave the island. Bancree is so small, she takes a ferry to attend high school (not unlike some Gulf Island kids here in B.C.). Read more of this post

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, by Tania Del Rio and Will Staele (2015)

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing EyeMeet Warren, who lives in a hotel. He is the 13th Warren to be heir to the Warren Hotel, though his current role is as errand boy, bellhop, room-service valet, handyman and responsibility for pretty much any task that needs doing at the Warren Hotel. Truthfully, his job is mostly upkeep, or trying to keep it from falling down. Warren the 12th (his dad) died when Warren the 13th was just seven years old, too young to take the reins. His lazy Uncle Rupert took over, but things soon went downhill, and it’s been five years since the last guest left. Hence Warren’s astonishment when, as he is on the roof clearing the ravens’ nest from the chimney (again), he hears an automobile approaching. Read more of this post

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Dystopian Fiction
Station ElevenAn aging actor has a heart attack on a Toronto stage, performing King Lear. A child actor watches a paramedic leap onto the stage to try to save his life. Within days, nearly every person in the theatre is dead of a virulent flu that spreads rapidly and with deadly consequences. Cellphone and landlines are jammed as loved ones desperately try to reach each other; when a call goes through, no one answers. Traffic clogs the freeways as the healthy seek to escape the cities, but there is nowhere to go. Television station signals fade to nothing, but not until after the camera points at an empty newsdesk. The electricity fails, water stops flowing from taps. The few survivors begin a new count: Year One. Read more of this post

Took: A Ghost Story, by Mary Downing Hahn (2015)

Ages 10-14
Took: A Ghost StoryThis latest offering from master storyteller Mary Downing Hahn delivers all the chills and shivers young fans of creepy horror stories are looking for. This isn’t for everyone – it may induce nightmares, so if your youngster likes the idea of scary stories better than the reality, read it yourself first. Daniel and his sister Erica are uprooted from their comfortable Connecticut existence when their parents buy a home in West Virgina. It’s a dilapidated fixer-upper, made irresistible to the adults by Old Auntie who is watching the scene unfold. She is a 200-year-old conjure woman who “lives” in the woods and is seeking a new Girl to do her chores, as she does every 50 years. Erica is seven, and just perfect for Old Auntie’s needs. Read more of this post