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STAFF PICKS

September 2019

Jo's Picks

With the Fire on High

by Elizabeth Acevedo
(HarperCollins)

I loved Acevedo's National Book Award winning debut The Poet Xwhich was delivered flawlessly in verse form but she may be an even better prose writer. This YA novel just flowed. Emoni Santiago, an Afro-Boricuan 17-year old is balancing schoolwork, and her love of cooking, with raising her toddler. Emoni's voice is crystal clear, and she comes across as strong and complex. Raised by her abuela/grandmother when her mother dies and her father moves back to Puerto Rico, the last thing Emoni planned for was to get pregnant in her freshman year. She dreams of becoming a chef, channeling her instincts  into creating food that makes people feel something. The recipes sprinkled without add spice to the story, reminding us how wonderful it is for families to cook and eat together. Acevedo handles the themes of motherhood and family with a  whole lot of heart, plenty of passion, and liberal pinches of the real. It is the people who Emoni gathers around her that give her the strength to reach.

 

Truly Devious

by Maureen Johnson
(HarperCollins)

What fun! A boarding school mystery entwined with another mystery from the past. Shades of the Linbergh baby kidnapping meets Poirot. Truly Devious is the moniker of a criminal mastermind whose dastardly crime in the early years of the school has haunted Ellingham Academy for decades. Stevie Bell, a true crime buff --nay expert!, is thrilled to be accepted on a scholarship to the mountain top school in Vermont. And she is determined to solve the cold case. More so, when Truly Devious appears again and one of her housemates turns up dead. So much cleverness abounds here, lots of twisty turns, and a cast of colourful characters including an inventor, a novelist, an actor, an artist and a jokester. The first in a trilogy.

 

Alice's Picks

Certain Details

by Nelson Ball
(Wilfrid Laurier University)

Nelson Ball is one of my absolute favourite poets, an extraordinary Canadian writer of exquisitely minimalist poems. Sadly he passed away quite recently, but he left behind an amazing body of work, from the 1960s onward. He was also the force behind weed/flower press, a prolific micropress, as well as a legendary bookseller, who sold his incredible collection of books out of his house, a former gypsum factory headquarters in Paris, Ontario. This is a very fine selection of his work and a great entry point into his life's work, selected and introduced by the poet Stuart Ross, and with a generous afterword by Ball. Beautiful, spare, descriptive poems filled with the natural world, light, air, emotion and sly humour.

 

Inland

by Téa Obreht
(Random House)

Inland is a remarkable novel. From the epigraph at the start, from a poem by James Galvin, the clear-eyed, sad, strange beauty of the book is established: "Time doesn't change,/Nor do times./Only things inside time change,/Things you will believe, and things you won't." Set in the late 1800s in the Midwest, this is an extremely well-written story that folds in ghosts, intricate family stories, robbery, immigration, poverty, landscape, and all sorts of other seemingly disparate but well-integrated subjects. Tragedy and humour weave throughout the book, and the plot grabs the reader from the get-go. The extreme situations of drought and trauma inform the story at all levels. A truly epic, memorable read.

Austerlitz

by W.G. Sebald
(Modern Library)

For me, this is the one of the greatest novels ever written on the Holocaust, and by one of the finest novelists who ever lived. This was also one of the first texts to incorporate photographs and visual forms of documents, and these help propel a very interesting narrative. The character Austerlitz tells his story to the narrator, and the resulting book is a fascinating mix of fact and fiction. As an infant, Austerlitz was sent to Wales on the Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia, and only after his foster parents died found out he wasn't British. The book follows Austerlitz's search for his history and parents, and is incredibly powerful and affecting. Personal histories are tied closely to place, and there are incredible descriptions of train stations, Jewish ghettoes, libraries, and concentration camps. A special shout out to the translator Anthea Bell, who won awards for her translation into English from the original German.


Anne-Marie's Picks

Small in the City

Written & Illustrated by Sydney Smith
(Groundwood Books)

Sporting a striking fabric cover embossed with the silhouette of its small protagonist, Small in the City begins with a series of wordless frames depicting a child’s bus journey downtown. Sydney Smith’s masterful, immersive drawings capture the overwhelming experience of being small in the city, with a riot of lines, signs, faces and perspective that draws the eye upwards to towering buildings. Confronting these busy streets the child says: “But I know you. You’ll be all right.” Are they consoling themselves? Reassuring an imaginary friend? With a kid’s eye view of the city, the child goes on to advise on trees to climb, dryer vents to warm up by, dark alleys to avoid. Astute observers will notice that the illustrations must be “read” alongside the text to grasp the full effect of the story, a story which will demand immediate re-reading upon discovering its narrative twist.  This book is a tender, beautifully rendered contemplation of a child’s resilience and capacity for big journeys, both physical and emotional, despite being small.

Count on Me

Written by & Illustrated by Miguel Tanco
(Tundra Books)

This picture book is a lovely ode to math in everyday life. The little narrator introduces readers to her quirky family: her arty dad wielding a paintbrush, her entomologist mother peering through a microscope, her brother entangled in his tuba. They all have their passions. The little girl has math. She sees it everywhere she goes, in everything she does, from airplane trajectories to fractals in trees. Author/illustrator Miguel Tanco’s comical line drawings in ink and watercolour are brimming with patterns, spirals and polygons. The little girl points out that math is all around us, sometimes hidden, but fun to find. The book concludes with her illustrated notes on math discoveries.



Alice's Recommendations

Anne-Marie's Recommendations

Jo's Recommendations