The Great Outdoors: A User’s Guide, by Brendan Leonard (2017)

This is the perfect introduction to all things outdoorsy for that person on your list (or yourself) who wants to “get out more” but has no clue how to go about doing it. Think of this sizable tome (300+ pages) like a benevolent uncle sharing wisdom to make sure you will not only survive in the wild but will have a great time out there. The book is organized into six sections, and each one includes discussion of basic safety, techniques, gear, and some helpful tips on everything from how to drive in the snow to having sex in a tent. Not being a Canadian, of course he doesn’t touch the topic of making love in a canoe. Some things are better left to the experts. Read more of this post

Speed of Life, by Carol Weston (2017)

Contemporary Fiction
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

The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak (2017)

The Impossible Fortress by Jason RekulakFirst up, The Impossible Fortress is an old-school computer game, created on a Commodore 64, in hopes of winning a contest and the coveted top prize of an IBM PS/2. (It features a 16-bit processor!) Remember those? How about the TRS-80, fondly recalled today as the Trash 80? This young adult novel is a delightful romp through the pop culture and early home computing history of the late 1980s, featuring appearances by Bruce Hornsby and Christie Brinkley, dial-up modems and Compuserve electronic mail, video rentals and IBM Selectric. But the most coveted item in the lives of 14-year-olds Billy Marvin and his best friends Alf and Clark is the latest Playboy magazine. They are desperate to get their hands on it. It features Vanna White, and everyone’s talking about her bum and boobs. Read more of this post

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, by Chelsea Sedoti (2017)

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, by Chelsea SedotiWhen the beautiful Lizzie Lovett disappears after a reportedly happy evening of camping with her boyfriend, Hawthorn Creely’s high school is buzzing with excitement. Not much happens in Griffin Mills, and Hawthorn is quick to join the locals in speculating on the cause of Lizzie’s disappearance, even while the search parties are frantically combing the woods around the campsite where she was last seen. Hawthorn’s older brother Rush, who dated Lizzie when they were seniors in high school, is apparently devastated, which strikes Hawthorn as odd since they haven’t spoken in years. Now a senior herself, Hawthorn recalls the kindness Lizzie once showed her, followed by a mortifying snub that still hurts. Read more of this post

Project Apollo: The Early Years, 1961-1967, by Eugen Reichl (2016)

13 to Adult
Project Apollo: The Early Years 1961-1967, by Eugen ReichlHow sadly appropriate that I’m writing this on the day American astronaut and space pioneer John Glenn passed away, Dec. 8. You don’t have to be too much of a space geek to enjoy this introduction to the unmanned Apollo missions that preceded Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s steps on the moon. This is the third book in the America in Space series (after Project Mercury and Project Gemini), all authored by Reichl, an aerospace expert who works for the European Aeronautic Defence and Space company (EADS). The book was originally written and published in German, which surprised me given the topic. Reichl writes in clear, accessible language. He touches on technical topics in enough detail to appeal to enthusiasts but doesn’t lose readers in the process. Read more of this post

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

Grit Lit
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)

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

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko, by Scott Stambach (2016)

Ages 16-Adult
The Invisible Life of Ivan IsaenkoIvan Isaenko has lived his entire 17 years in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children, where he spends his days studying and skewering the people around him, reading the books Nurse Natalya brings him, and trying to find sense in a world that he can only watch from the sidelines. Born less than two years after the Chernobyl Reactor disaster, Ivan has never known his parents. He lacks legs, and has one arm and just three fingers on his lone hand. He also has a keen intellect, a wicked sense of humour, and agoraphobia. Other than Nurse Natalya, Ivan keeps everyone at a distance. He prides himself on identifying the “three-monthers” (those whose lives are nearing the end) before the doctors do. Read more of this post

The Loose Ends List, by Carrie Firestone (2016)

The Loose Ends List, by Carrie FirestoneHere’s another book where I seem to diverge from the collective views. Maddie is 18 years old and is looking forward to spending her post-high school summer with her best friends as they get ready for college. Her plans are upset when her beloved Gram calls the family together to announce she has cancer, and has booked them all on a world cruise, a “dying with dignity” cruise with other terminal patients and families, by the end of which all the patients will be gone. So let’s look at the good stuff first. This is a young adult novel tackling euthanasia with gusto. These patients choose when to die and a doctor on board gives them the final needle. YA lit often takes on tough topics, and this one is done really well. 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 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

Movie Game, by Michael Ebner (2016)

Ages 16-25
Movie GameIt’s been three years since Joe’s girlfriend suddenly died on the same night he caught his mother in bed with someone not his father. His father left the family and never came back, and his mother abandoned her nearly-adult children to move in with her lover. Joe’s now 17, has regular sex with a girl who already has a boyfriend, and devotes all his time to movies. A cinephile who stalks and threatens the talkers and popcorn-chewers who disrupt his film experience, Joe lives in the family home with his sister, Loren, who fools the neighbours by regularly hanging her mother’s clothes on the line. Finishing university with no social life to speak of, Loren has a job offer in Paris but won’t walk away from her responsibilities. 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

Trouble Is a Friend of Mine, by Stephanie Tromly (2015)

Trouble Is a Friend of MineHere is the perfect choice for Nancy Drew fans ready to advance to YA literature without giving up their heroine’s adventures. First-time author Tromly draws heavily on the teen detective’s traditions, creating a fast-paced mystery with smart-mouthed teen characters who outwit the bad guys with little adult help, but with a large helping of humour – primarily sarcasm. Narrator Zoe is 16 years old, and new to town with only her mother after her parents’ divorce. She soon meets Digby, quite possibly the most resourceful and irritating classmate on earth, but with an irresistible charm that leads her straight into the first of many escapades. Read more of this post

More Happy than Not, by Adam Silvera (2015)

Grit Lit
More Happy than NotSixteen-year-old Aaron Soto just wants a little happiness, or at least respite from the life he lives with his overworked mother and cruelly silent brother in their one-bedroom Bronx apartment. He is also desperate to forget finding his father’s body in the tub, a memory so distressing it led to his own suicide attempt. He focuses his hopes on the promise of “memory relief” from the Leteo Institute, but his mother simply cannot afford the costly medical procedure. He finds solace in the arms of his girlfriend Genevieve and with his new friend Thomas, with whom he shares a passion for action comics and movies. When his friendship with Thomas deepens, Aaron is confused and grows even more convinced that Leteo offers his only hope. Read more of this post