Mark your calendars! March 21st is the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Aptly, March 21st is a day of new beginnings for a few symbolic reasons. Not only does it mark the first day of Spring, it is also the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In honor of this worthy occasion, we’ve put together a short list which highlight a few of our favourite books which encourage readers to question biases, confront discrimination, and end intolerance.

For more information about the day, visit the UN’s site here.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates betweentheworldandme

For Ta-Nehisi Coates, history has always been personal. At every stage of his life, he’s sought in his explorations of history answers to the mysteries that surrounded him — most urgently, why he, and other black people he knew, seemed to live in fear. What were they afraid of? In Tremble for My Country, Coates takes readers along on his journey through America’s history of race and its contemporary resonances through a series of awakenings — moments when he discovered some new truth about our long, tangled history of race, whether through his myth-busting professors at Howard University, a trip to a Civil War battlefield with a rogue historian, a journey to Chicago’s South Side to visit aging survivors of 20th century America’s ‘long war on black people, ‘ or a visit with the mother of a beloved friend who was shot down by the police. In his trademark style — a mix of lyrical personal narrative, reimagined history, essayistic argument, and reportage — Coates provides readers a thrillingly illuminating new framework for understanding race: its history, our contemporary dilemma, and where we go from here. (From the publisher)

The Break by Katherine Vermette 

thebreak

 

A 2016 Canada Reads, Governor General’s Literary Award, and Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize  finalist (among many other awards), Vermette’s debut novel is a startling look into the lives of First Nations women in Winnpeg’s North End.

“When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.

In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Metis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed. ” (From the publisher)

hiddenfiguresHidden Figures; The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly 

Now a major motion picture, this phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA at the leading edge of the feminist and civil rights movement, whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space–a powerful, revelatory contribution that is as essential to our understanding of race, discrimination, and achievement in modern America as Between the World and Me and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. (From the publisher)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whithead  undergroundrailroad

The National Book Award Winner and #1 New York Times bestseller from Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad is a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South.

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood–where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned–Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor–engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. (From the publisher)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie americanah

A searing new novel, at once sweeping and intimate, by the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun: a story of love and race centered around a man and woman from Nigeria who seemed destined to be together–until the choices they are forced to make tear them apart. Ifemelu–beautiful, self-assured–left Nigeria 15 years ago, and now studies in Princeton as a Graduate Fellow. She seems to have fulfilled every immigrant’s dream: Ivy League education; success as a writer of a wildly popular political blog; money for the things she needs. But what came before is more like a nightmare: wrenching departure from family; humiliating jobs under a false name. She feels for the first time the weight of something she didn’t think about back home: race. Obinze–handsome and kind-hearted–was Ifemelu’s teenage love; he’d hoped to join her in America, but post 9/11 America wouldn’t let him in. Obinze’s journey leads him to back alleys of illegal employment in London; to a fake marriage for the sake of a work card, and finally, to a set of handcuffs as he is exposed and deported. Years later, when they reunite in Nigeria, neither is the same person who left home. Obinze is the kind of successful “Big Man” he’d scorned in his youth, and Ifemelu has become an “Americanah”–a different version of her former self, one with a new accent and attitude. As they revisit their shared passion–for their homeland and for each other–they must face the largest challenges of their lives. Spanning three continents, entering the lives of a richly drawn cast of characters across numerous divides, Americanah is a riveting story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world. (From the publisher)

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese Indianhorse

Saul Indian Horse is dying. Tucked away in a hospice high above the clash and clang of a big city, he embarks on a marvellous journey of imagination back through the life he led as a northern Ojibway, with all its sorrows and joys.

With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he’s sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement. (From the publisher)

I Want All the Books!

The weather might be terribly treacherous, and driving might be dangerous, and I might not be able to be on social media or the Internet much these days because too much negativity is just plain bad for me; but THIS IS THE BEST BOOK WEEK in a very long time!  I’m pretty sure many of us could read only books that were published this week and be happy little bookworms for quite some time to come.  There’s something for everyone.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a selection of this week’s choicest goodies:

impossibleThe Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak*
Until May 1987, fourteen-year-old Billy Marvin of Wetbridge, New Jersey, is a nerd, but a decidedly happy nerd.  Afternoons are spent with his buddies, watching copious amounts of television, gorging on Pop-Tarts, debating who would win in a brawl (Rocky Balboa or Freddy Krueger? Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel? Magnum P.I. Or T.J. Hooker?), and programming video games on his Commodore 64 late into the night. Then Playboy magazine publishes photos of Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White, Billy meets expert programmer Mary Zelinsky, and everything changes.**

norseNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman*
Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.  In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki–son of a giant–blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.**

pachinkoPachinko by Min Jin Lee*
A new tour de force from the bestselling author of Free Food for Millionaires, for readers of The Kite Runner and Cutting for Stone. PACHINKO follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.**

possessionsThe Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy*
In this electrifying literary debut, a young woman who channels the dead for a living crosses a dangerous line when she falls in love with one of her clients, whose wife died under mysterious circumstances. […] A tale of desire and obsession, deceit and dark secrets that defies easy categorization, The Possessions is a seductive, absorbing page-turner that builds to a shattering, unforgettable conclusion.**

refugeesThe Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen*
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer was one of the most widely and highly praised novels of 2015, the winner not only of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but also the Center for Fiction Debut Novel Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the ALA Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the California Book Award for First Fiction. Nguyen’s next fiction book, The Refugees , is a collection of perfectly formed stories written over a period of twenty years, exploring questions of immigration, identity, love, and family.**

 

Happy reading!

-Patricia

*Thanks to NetGalley and Edelweiss for advanced readers’ copies of these titles.

**Blurbs provided by publishers.

 

 

Kat’s 2017 Most Anticipated Reads

It’s apparently the year of the sequel, at least for my anticipated reads. But three of my current favourite series are wrapping up this year and I’m very, very excited about that. I didn’t even come close to finishing my 2016 TBR list, but since the whole point of a TBR list is to keep adding more to it, here we go!

January Releases:

bearandnightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

One of the few on my list that’s not part of a series, Arden’s debut novel draws heavily from Russian folklore, and is perfect blend of mythology, history, and magic, with fully realized characters and an incredibly well-captured setting. If you liked Uprooted, definitely read this one next. It’s a perfect winter read, although its Medieval Northern Russia Winter setting means that warm blankets and tea while reading this one are a must.

bintihome Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor

In this sequel to 2015’s Hugo and Nebula-award winning novella, Binti – who left home abruptly to attend an off-world university against her family’s wishes – now returns home with her unlikely friend Okwu, and humanity must truly face whether it’s possible for the two races to truly exist peacefully.

February:

conjuring A Conjuring of Light, by V.E. Schwab

This is the finale to Schwab’s brilliant trilogy (which includes A Darker Shade of Magic, and A Gathering of Shadows), where there are four separate worlds with four Londons. Each of the Londons have a different relationship with magic, but there is only one magician left who can travel between them. This chapter in the story promises to wrap up the trilogy in a pretty spectacular fashion, and I’m hoping we get to learn lots more about the fallen black London….

March:

collapsingempire The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

I love John Scalzi, and not just for the twitter account he made for his kittens (@scamperbeasts), even though it’s adorable.  In his new book, humanity has gone to the stars and has colonizing many other planets, but only because of access to the Flow – a phenomenon that allows them to bypass faster-than-light travel (which doesn’t exist). But when it’s discovered that the Flow moves, and may soon cut humanity off from travel between its worlds, they must scramble to save their empire from collapse.

April:

wakinggods Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel

This is the sequel to 2016’s Sleeping Giants, a sci-fi/conspiracy story of of a team of scientists and military personnel discovering and assembling a colossal robot, who’s parts were scattered all over the earth. The book was quickly optioned for a movie last year. In this follow-up it looks like the now-assembled robot has some company, and Earth may be facing invasion. If you like straight-forward sci-fi that still manages to balance plot and character development, this series is a great pick.

borneBorne, by Jeff VanderMeer

I never actually read VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, but I heard so many good things about it that I’m going to try his new one. It’s dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction about a world destroyed by bio-engineering run amok, and a scavenger who discovers a strange biotech creature which she immediately feels strong, inexplicable bond with.

June:

downamongthesticksDown Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire

This is the second book in McGuire’s Wayward Children series. The previous title, Every Heart a Doorway, was one of my favourite books from 2016, so I’m really excited for this one. It’s not really a direct sequel though; it follows the back-story of two of the most interesting characters from Every Heart, but promises to be much darker, as the world that sisters Jack and Jill found themselves was like a horror movie, filled with mad scientists, vampires, and death.

August:

wardedmanThe Core, by Peter V. Brett

This is the final installment of Brett’s Demon Cycle, which is so far one of my all-time favourite fantasy series. There’s no cover for this book yet, so I’ve posted the first book in the series – The Warded Man. In this last book – The Core – Arlen and Jardir travel down for the final face-off with the demons who have plagued (and decimated) humanity for so long. This series is exciting, fast-paced, featuring some great world-building and a really fascinating system of magic, so if you’re an “epic fantasy” fan I’d definitely recommend this one.

stoneskyThe Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin

The first in this trilogy – The Fifth Season – was brilliant, and the second opened up the world and characters even further, so I’m very excited for this concluding volume. In this last one, Essun’s daughter Nassun has fully come into her power, and now between the two they will either save or destroy the world.

 

 

September:

communication Communication Failure, by Joe Zieja

The first in this “Epic Failure” series, Mechanical Failure, was the funniest, most ridiculously silly book I’d read in a long time; while that can be a tricky thing to maintain in a series, I have high hopes for this one.  It’s a military sci-fi, which is not normally my favourite, but the snappy dialogue, ridiculous (but unfortunately not too far out of the range of realism…) characters, and unrelenting chaos and absurdity won me over and I can’t wait for more!

 

Of course I am continuing not to mention The Winds of Winter, The Doors of Stone, and The Thorne of Emberlain here because that’s asking way too much in a year already packed with sequelly goodness, but I can still keep my fingers crossed for at least an official publication date. What SF/FAN are you most looking forward to this year?

Happy Reading!
Kat

 

 

 

 

 

Patricia’s Most Anticipated Reads of 2017

As a reader, I love a good TBR list – preferably a long one. I’ve signed myself up for two reading challenges this year — Litsy A to Z (title stream — where I read a book for each letter of the alphabet) and Litsy Reading Challenge (which is basically a book bingo card).  Now the challenge is to figure out where these fabulous looking titles fit in:

Historical Fiction

maidenThe Chosen Maiden by Eva Stachniak

The lush, sweeping story of a remarkable dancer who charts her own course through the tumultuous years of early twentieth-century Europe. Beautifully blending fiction with fact, The Chosen Maiden plunges readers into an artistic world upended by modernity, immersing them in the experiences of the era’s giants, from Anna Pavlova and Serge Diaghilev to Coco Chanel and Pablo Picasso.(January)

neroThe Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George

With impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy’s ruthless ascension to the throne. Detailing his journey from innocent youth to infamous ruler, it is an epic tale of the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival. (March)

Literary Fiction

transitTransit by Rachel Cusk*

Filtered through the impersonal gaze of its keenly intelligent protagonist, Transit sees Rachel Cusk delve deeper into the themes first raised in her critically acclaimed Outline, and offers up a penetrating and moving reflection on childhood and fate, the value of suffering, the moral problems of personal responsibility, and the mystery of change.  (January)

 

lincolnLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders*

The captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil WarSet over the course of […] one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before. (February)

exitwestExit West by Mohsin Hamid*

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet–sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors–doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . . (Februrary)

littlesisterLittle Sister by Barbara Gowdy

Rose is a sensible woman, thirty-four years old. Together with her widowed mother, Fiona, she runs a small repertory cinema in a big city. Fiona is in the early stages of dementia and is beginning to make painful references to Rose’s sister, Ava, who died young in an accident.  It is high summer, and a band of storms, unusual for their frequency and heavy downpour, is rolling across the city. Something unusual is also happening to Rose. As the storms break overhead, she loses consciousness and has vivid, realistic dreams–not only about being someplace else, but also of living someone else’s life.

Is Rose merely dreaming? Or is she, in fact, inside the body of another woman? Disturbed and entranced, she tries to find out what is happening to her. (April)

Horror

littleheavenLittle Heaven by Nick Cutter

From electrifying horror author Nick Cutter comes a haunting new novel, reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Stephen King’s It , in which a trio of mismatched mercenaries is hired by a young woman for a deceptively simple task: check in on her nephew, who may have been taken against his will to a remote New Mexico backwoods settlement called Little Heaven. […] Paranoia and distrust grips the settlement. The escape routes are gradually cut off as events spiral towards madness. Hell–or the closest thing to it–invades Little Heaven. (January)

skitterSkitter by Ezekiel Boone*

Ezekiel Boone continues his shivery and wildly entertaining homage to classic horror novels with Skitter , the second book in his The Hatching series. There’s a reason we’re afraid of spiders… (April)

Science Fiction / Fantasy

amateursThe Amateurs by Liz Harmer

PINA, the largest tech company in the world, introduces a product called port . These ports offer space-time travel powered by nostalgia and desire. Want to go back to when your relationship was blossoming? To when your kids were small, or when your parents met? To Elizabethan England? To 1990s Seattle? Easy. Step inside the port with a destination in mind, and you will be transported. But there is a catch: it’s possible that you cannot come back. And the ports are incredibly seductive, drawing in those with weaker wills… (March)

dragonteethDragon Teeth by Michael Crichton*

Michael Crichton, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Jurassic Park, returns to the world of paleontology in this recently discovered novela thrilling adventure set in the Wild West during the golden age of fossil hunting.

The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate Americas western territories even as lawless gold-rush towns begin to mark the landscape. In much of the country it is still illegal to espouse evolution. Against this backdrop two monomaniacal paleontologists pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveilling, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars. (May)

I’m also super excited about the new Gregory Maguire, Hiddensee– based on The Nutcracker – due out this fall.

Non-Fiction

bearsBears in the Streets by Lisa Dickey

Lisa Dickey traveled across the whole of Russia three times–in 1995, 2005 and 2015–making friends in eleven different cities, then coming back again and again to see how their lives had changed. Like the acclaimed British documentary series Seven Up! , she traces the ups and downs of ordinary people’s lives, in the process painting a deeply nuanced portrait of modern Russia. (January)

octoberOctober: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Mieville

The renowned fantasy and science fiction writer China Miéville has long been inspired by the ideals of the Russian Revolution and here, on the centenary of the revolution, he provides his own distinctive take on its history.  In February 1917, in the midst of bloody war, Russia was still an autocratic monarchy: nine months later, it became the first socialist state in world history. How did this unimaginable transformation take place? How was a ravaged and backward country, swept up in a desperately unpopular war, rocked by not one but two revolutions? (May)

What books are you most excited about for 2017?

-Patricia

(Blurbs taken from the publishers.)

*Thanks to Edelweiss and NetGalley for ARCs of these titles.

Mikale’s Top Picks for 2016

minnie

 

Dear 2016, see ya later.

Like so many of us, I’m sort of ready for this year to be over. While in my personal and professional life I’ve met a number of invaluable people, and had more adventures than I can count, in general I think it’s fair to say that on a global level 2016 was a bit of a dud. As such, I find myself looking forward to 2017 with anxious trepidation… With all these feeeeeeelings it’s been a great year to  escape into the beautiful, fantastical world of fiction.

2016 was a great year for books,therefore allow me to  present my top five reads of the past year. I noticed a few patterns in my reading this year (apparently I’ve read A LOT of depressing literary fiction) so in an effort to be a little less insular, I’ve broken my list down into five of my  go-to’s.

Hope you enjoy, and good luck out there.

 

Best Series:  Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels brilliantfriend

I am halfway through this four-part coming-of-age series which spans the life-long friendship of two intelligent and perceptive girls growing up in the Naples region of Italy.  Although the premise may seem simple, this character-driven series is all about the complexities and nuances of  both female friendship, and more generally of women’s lives. As such, it felt like one of the more fully developed explorations of a women’s experience I’ve ever read, with feminist themes throughout. Don’t let the awful cover art fool you: I can’t recommend this one enough and have already bought copies of My Brilliant Child for a few of my favorite women this Christmas.

*Still haven’t convinced you? Read this blog post about the author’s mysterious identity! 

Best Short Story Collection: B.J. Novak’s One More Thing 

onemorethingIf I were ever to decide to track down a celebrity and woo them with every ounce of wit and charm I posses, I’m pretty sure it would be for The Office’s B.J. Novak. While he didn’t do much for me as TV star, as an author? Oh boy.

He first came into the literary spotlight with the genius children’s story  The Book With No Pictures however with his latest collection of short stories Mr. Novak has proven himself capable of captivating audiences of all ages. In short, One More Thing is hilarious and charming. I listened to the audiobook, and found myself giggling like a lunatic on the seabus listening to a fictionalized John Grisham come to grips with a monumental typo, then later tearing up over the title story of a Willy Wonka-esque golden ticket draw which threatens to unravel a family.  Although I am not normally a huge short story fan, this book captivated me.

 

Best Dystopic Why-Bother-With-Life Fiction: The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver   mandibles

Word of advice: this is not an appropriate read when feeling down or financially pinched, during election time, or when travelling long distances on public transit.  Set in the not-too-distant future, The Mandibles is the story of one upper middle class Brooklyn  family as they struggle for survival following the crash of the US dollar in favor of an international currency called the Bancor.  Shriver’s story is less fantastical and more of an examination of how delicate our economic system really is, and thus is not only plausible but illuminating. Like a modern day Grapes of Wrath, this book  takes its readers down a seemingly endless hole of hopeless despair, and doesn’t offer a breath of air until ( thankfully unlike Grapes) the end. What I liked most about this book was how much I learned about economic theory. What I disliked? Well, it wasn’t the right choice of reading material during the US election…..

 

vegetarianBest Quirky and Compelling: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian is an experience. This three-part South Korean novella is  about a “previously unremarkable” young woman who decides to quit eating meat after a violent, bloody dream; a decision that sets in motion a series of events which eventually tears apart her family and social circle. Reading this book reminded me of a more guttural Murakami, with imagery so startlingly visceral and bizarre that I wish there was an accompanying graphic novel. Many of my coworkers didn’t get into this one, but the fact that I’m still thinking about this book six months later tells me it deserves to be on this list.

Overall Favourite: The Course of Love by Alain de Botton  course-of-love

I spend too much a lot of time thinking about the nature of relationships and the concept of romanticism.  As such, this book hit me right in the gut by combining both a well-written story, and the theoretical examination of a marriage.  I’ve already talked about this book so often both on this blog and to my friends that I’ll keep it short, and rather point you to this. Since first reading my library copy, I’ve purchased two copies to give out to friends, and have a few more to handout as Christmas presents.

 

-Mikale Fenton

Christmas Classics, Old and New

Looking for a Christmas read? Look no further!

Five Old Classics

dickensA Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens’ famous novella about an old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who receives a lesson in the true meaning of Christmas and is transformed into a kinder, gentler version of his former self after visitations from the ghost of his former business partner and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. First published in London in December, 1843, and immediately popular, this work has never been out of print.

tolkienLetters From Father Christmas, by J.R.R.Tolkien
Tolkien wrote these lovely illustrated letters to his children between 1920 and 1942. From the pens of Father Christmas and his secretary, they document the goings-on of the preceding year at the North Pole, focusing on the exploits of Father Christmas, his elvish assistants, and the North Polar Bear and his cubs, Paksu and Valkotukka. The stories include a description of the huge firework display that creates the northern lights; the 1939 letter makes a reference to the Second World War.

lwLittle Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, Little Women tells the lives of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – as they grow into young women in nineteenth-century New England. The novel is loosely based on the lives of the author and her three sisters. Alcott followed her Little Women with a sequel, Little Men.

cciwA Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas
The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s delightful and nostalgic description of a Christmas from his boyhood: “One Christmas was so much like the other in those years around the sea-town corner now … that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six”. You can read the book, or listen to Dylan Thomas reading the story himself (1952 recording) on YouTube.

togThe Tailor of Gloucester, by Beatrix Potter
A tailor sends his cat, Simpkin, on an errand to fetch food and some thread that he needs to complete a waistcoat for the mayor, who is to be married on Christmas Day. Once the cat is out, he discovers the mice that the cat had concealed under some teacups. Written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter, this children’s story was published in 1903. Potter declared that, of her own works, this was her favourite.

Five Modern Classics

chlistThe Christmas List, by Richard Evans
A Utah real estate developer by the name of James Kier opens the newspaper on the Saturday three weeks before Christmas, and is surprised to see his obituary and read that he has died in a car crash. The New York Times bestselling author of The Christmas Box and The Walk series returns with a holiday novel of hope, love, and redemption.*

acpA Christmas Promise, by Thomas Kinkade
James Cameron, a minister who runs a mission in Central America, has decided to spend the holidays in Cape Light. But when his car collides with another car, a hint of trouble befalls this close-knit community. No one is hurt, but out-of-towner Leigh Baxter is forced to stay in town until her car is fixed. What she doesn’t expect, however, is that the charm of this beautiful seaside hamlet and its citizens will soon win her over.*

hoiHolidays on Ice, by David Sedaris
A re-release of a holiday classic, expanded with new stories. This collection includes Sedaris’s famously hilarious Santaland Diaries, in which he describes his stint as a Christmas elf at Macy’s department store in New York.

polarThe Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
A young boy takes a magical train ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and receives the first gift of Christmas from Santa. This work won the annual Caldecott Medal for illustration of an American children’s picture book in 1986.

scjgSkipping Christmas, by John Grisham
Imagine a year without Christmas. No crowded malls, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, no unwanted presents. That’s just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, they’ll skip the holiday altogether. Theirs will be the only house on Hemlock Street without a rooftop Frosty; they won’t be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash; they aren’t even going to have a tree. But, as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences.*

*Description from Bibliocommons

Patricia’s Top 10 Reads of 2016

2016 is well-acknowledged to have been a pretty terrible year.  You know why.  On the plus side, 2016 has been a very very good year for books.  Here are my ten favourites:

hatchingBest Horror – The Hatching
I cannot imagine anything more terrifying than alien spiders that do what the spiders in this novel can do (and I’ve had six month’s worth of delicious fun trying.)  Let me say it again:  alien spiders.  (Also, they chew.) I pride myself on liking epically violent horror and yet could only read this book — the first in a series — with the lights on in the daytime when other people were around.  Warning: You will want to read the sequel immediately after finishing this book.  Also: alien spiders.

weepingwoman

Best Fiction for Art Lovers – The Weeping Woman
I feel deeply in love with this novel about a Cuban woman living in Paris and writing a biography of Picasso’s one-time lover Dora Maar, and have been mulling it over in my mind for the better part of this year.  Its release was timed near perfectly with the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibition Picasso: The Artist and his Muses.  I’m very much looking forward to a re-read in 2017.

exitBest Teen Read – Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Hermione Winters is a high school head cheerleader who gets raped at cheerleading camp.  The way that she copes and heals in the aftermath makes for compelling reading.  Hermione’s powerful relationship with her best friend Polly and the strength she draws from her make this book my favourite YA read of the year.

blizzardBest Post-Apocalyptic Red – The Blizzard
In nineteenth-century Russia. Garin, a district doctor, is desperately trying to reach the village of Dolgoye, where a mysterious epidemic is turning people into zombies. He carries with him a vaccine that will prevent the spread of this terrible disease but is stymied in his travels by an all-consuming snowstorm.*

prettyfastBest Quick Read – Life Moves Pretty Fast:  The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (And Why We Don’t Learn Them From Movies Anymore)
It’s okay to be authentically awkward in 80s films, and to dress badly, and to grapple with difficult problems.  Hadley Freeman celebrates many of our favourite 1980s films while examining them with a critical (often feminist) eye.  This book would make a perfect Christmas present for anyone nostalgic for the 1980s, or for those interested in feminist takes on pop culture.  Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

paxBest Book to Share with the Family – Pax
Pax is the story of a boy and his pet fox, Pax.  Peter’s father forces him to abandon his beloved companion in the woods.  Unable to be apart Pax and Peter each go on journeys to get back to one another.  The story is told alternates between Pax and Peter’s perceptions.  Pennypacker does a marvellous job of writing a page-turning adventure that still leaves room for quiet beautiful moments. (And Jon Klassen should illustrate everything.)

preciousBest Memoir – Precious Cargo: My Year Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077
Craig Davidson is now a well-known writer of Canadian literary fiction.  He’s also a successful writer of horror under the pseudonym Nick Cutter.  And he used to be a bus driver. “For readers of Kristine Barnett’s The Spark , Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree and Ian Brown’s The Boy in the Moon, here is a heartfelt, funny and surprising memoir about one year spent driving a bus full of children with special needs.”*

breathBest Tearjerker – When Breath Becomes Air

Confession: Even the title makes me teary.  I cried so much reading this book that my eyes hurt for a whole day.  After nearly a decade of training to be a neurosurgeon, 36-year old Paul is on the cusp of the career of his dreams when he learns that he has an aggressive form of cancer.  I cannot highly recommend this memoir enough: it’s questioning, moving, and wise.  Nor can I warn you enough against reading it in public.  It should come with a warning: for home use only.

everyheartBest Fantasy – Every Heart a Doorway
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been one of those people who still half believes in magical lands like Narnia or Fillory.  I can clearly imagine how privileged I would feel to belong in a place so precious that few people know it’s really real.  I can imagine how desperate I would be to get back ‘home’ to such a place if I left.  This book tells of children who have found their ‘home’ in magical places and are desperate to get back there.  It feels raw and true and beautiful.

homegoingBest Book of 2016 – Homegoing

The concept of Homegoing is simple and rich: it traces the lives of the descendants of two half-sisters born in 18th century Ghana.  One sister marries an Englishman an lives in a castle; the other is captured into slavery.  Each chapter jumps forward one generation.  There is longlasting evidence of the damage done by colonization and slavery in these very personal feeling stories.  Best of all, the ending is note perfect.

I’m super keen to know what other people’s favourite reads of 2016 are — Please share in the comments!

-Patricia

*Description from Bibliocommons