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

Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday and the Power of a Protest Song, by Gary Golio (2017)

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

On Turpentine Lane, by Elinor Lipman (2017)

On Turpentine Lane by Elinor LipmanI’ve read only one other book by Elinor Lipman, The Inn at Lake Devine, years before I started this blog, but I’ve never forgotten it. That says a lot about her writing, and I happily dove into this new offering. It doesn’t quite measure up to Lake Devine, in my view, but it’s a lovely choice for a bit of escapism in a winter that is sticking around longer than it should! The book opens with 30-something Faith Frankel deciding to buy a little house on, you guessed it, Turpentine Lane. Smitten by the two-storey home complete with a delightful pineapple newel post, Faith soon negotiates the buy from the owner’s distant daughter, as the actual owner, Mrs. Lavoie, is in hospital, having tried to commit suicide. Faith then finds out the woman’s first, second, and third husbands all died in the house. 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 Lost City of the Monkey God, by Douglas Preston (2017)

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

In the Red Canoe, by Leslie Davidson (2016)

Picture Book
In the Red Canoe by Leslie DavidsonWhat a delight it is for me to review this book, though long overdue, I’m embarrassed to admit! Leslie Davidson is a beloved elementary teacher who lived in Grand Forks B.C., where we moved just a few weeks ago. In fact, her home is the one we now call ours. She is so well known that when people here ask where I bought, I simply say “Leslie and Lincoln’s house,” and everyone knows it. This book was published in October, and as we were busy preparing for our move I’ve only now had a chance to buy myself a copy and read it. Beautifully illustrated by Laura Bifano, In the Red Canoe describes a young girl and her grandfather sharing delights and discoveries of nature as they paddle a lake. 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)

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

Best. State. Ever. by Dave Barry (2016)

Best. State. Ever. by Dave BarryIt’s getting harder to find humour in what’s happening across the line, so I turned to an old stand-by who delivers exactly what I needed in his latest offering, subtitled A Florida Man Defends his Homeland. Humourist Barry, formerly known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columns, now publishes a series of children’s novels, as well as continuing to write books for adults like this one. In Best. State. Ever., Barry rejects the idea that Floridians are dumb, but accepts that it’s definitely the state of weird, starting with, natch, the 2000 election and its hanging chads. 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

The River at Night, by Erica Ferencik (2017)

The River at Night, by Erica FerencikLooking for a scary read for a long winter’s evening? Sad from the recent loss of her brother and her marriage, timid Wini sets aside her many misgivings to join her three girlfriends in their annual week-long get-together led by the fearless Pia. This year, Pia has chosen a river rafting trip in the wilds of Maine. Along with emergency room nurse Rachel and teacher Sandra, the four women embark on a 30-mile rafting trip, led by handsome 20-year-old Rory, dreadlocked and muscled, with eyes “the exact green of an asparagus mousse” graphic designer Wini had featured in spring. He’s certainly irresistible to Pia, leading to a noisy hook-up that sets the friends squabbling. Read more of this post

100 Plants to Feed the Bees, by the Xerces Society (2016)

100 Plants to Feed the Bees, by the Xerces SocietyAs I live in an area known for its bountiful harvests, and I am building a vegetable garden, it’s a no-brainer that my flower garden needs to include lots of pollinator attractants. For this reason, my annual garden book selection for your New Year is about attracting bees. This new title from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is aimed at gardeners and farmers in the US and most of Canada, excluding the far north. The subtitle, “Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive,” is a bit misleading, since the focus of the book is a list of bee-friendly plants, rather than considering all aspects of a habitat. Still, the premise is simple – plant lots of flowers and don’t damage or kill the native plants. Read more of this post

The Art of Raising a Puppy, by the Monks of New Skete (1991, 2011)

The Art of Raising a Puppy, by the Monks of New SketeIf a family puppy finds its way under your tree this year (either joining your household now, or as in our case, in spring) sprint to the store for a copy of this highly recommended classic puppy training book, recently updated and reissued for its 20th anniversary. The book was first written in 1991 by the monks of a New York state monastery with a breeding kennel. The monks’ approach is simple. Your dog is your companion, and it’s your responsibility to train your puppy.A well-behaved pooch doesn’t bark uncontrollably or jump on small children, responds to your command to leave that dead thing in the grass alone, and lies quietly even when you are eating at the table. So how do we get there? Read more of this post

Quilting Is My Therapy, by Angela Walters (2016)

Quilting Is My Therapy, by Angela WaltersAs I embark on a new phase of my life, the prospect of quilting is both appealing and incredibly daunting. I love the idea of quilting – the time, patience, and frankly love that it takes to piece leftover scraps of fabric into a creation that is both beautiful and useful. The daunting part is that I’m worried I’ll never finish, or that it will look quite amateurish. So now you’ll understand why I picked up Walters’ book; in her introduction, she expresses a hope that the pictures will inspire rather than intimidate, and more to my point, she advises “don’t strive for perfection; strive for completion, remembering that a finished quilt is always better than a perfectly quilted [unfinished] one” (p.9, addition mine). 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