Young Adult Fantasy books

YA fantasy has always been a favorite of mine. Finding a book that takes you away from the real world – far, far, away from the too-real issues of today’s politics, particularly – is a challenge, especially in YA, but when you find a good one the rewards are addictive.

The trick with YA is that it often falls into traps – too quick publishing times, a stubborn (if futile) adherence to what is considered “trendy”, and problematic social themes. Often, finding a YA book that has strong characters, good dialogue, and isn’t being condescending to its readers is often a challenge – and in the fantasy genre, it’s even more difficult.

So here’s a few selected titles, so you don’t have to dig through mediocre plot lines and forced romantic subplots:

 

               

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

The first of a series, Rebel of the Sands’ characters reminded me of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, with all the elements of Arabian Nights. Amani is a character who’s ready to fight her way out of her small town – where she will be married off the first chance her uncle gets, and instead gets involved in a magical rebellion. While the story slows in parts, the main character’s growth and the action elements make a great read – who doesn’t love women sharpshooters escaping from marriage right into a magical, political adventure?The next book in the series comes out in March, and it looks like it’ll be even more interesting.

 

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo wrote another YA series within the same world, but Six of Crows is when she really found her stride. This story is a heist adventure with a cast of talented and unlikely characters thrown together towards a common goal. While dark at times it doesn’t flinch away from issues like slavery, prostitution, or corruption. It also has a good sense of humor, lovable and flawed antiheroes, and is a completed duology, so you don’t have to worry about waiting for the next book.

 

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina is one of the most unique YA fantasy books I’ve read. It combines high fantasy elements – the castle, the magic, the adventure – with dragons who are highly scientific and analytical, and who are able to shapeshift into human form. It starts when a tenuous dragon-human treaty is under threat and Seraphina – a half dragon whose existence is considered a sin – is caught up between her dragon heritage and her human life. It’s not for everyone: the writing style is heavily descriptive and  dense at times, and the second book in the duology is even denser. But it has a great message, exceptionally strong characters, and resonates long after you’ve finished reading. It’s also a great audiobook – if you’re into listening rather than reading.

 

The Seven Realms Series by Cinda Williams Chima

  1.  The Demon King     2. The Exiled Queen     3. The Grey Wolf     4. The Crimson Crown

While this series is older, it never got the attention it truly deserved. This is YA High Fantasy at its best – a young queen secreted away from a plot to kill her, a street thief with a magical secret who gets tangled in the throne’s politics – plus enough romantic intrigue with realistic boundaries, and interesting representation with the story’s natives and people of colour. It’s a commitment with four books in the series, but it’s worth the read- every book has a unique feeling, and they only get better after the first.

– – Alison S.

Life Animated

lifeanimatedbig

Life Animated (movie)

Life Animated by  Ron Suskind (book)

Every year there is a lot of excitement around the library when the list of Oscar-nominated films is announced.  Some of the chatter is what you would expect – is it a good movie? were the performances deserving of a nomination? how many times has Meryl Streep been nominated?  But often we like to talk about how many of the nominated films are based on books and even better, are they books that we have read?  WPL customers love to have this conversation as well and when the stakes are high – as they can be with an adaptation of a well-loved book – we can keep a conversation like this going for a long time.  I just love Academy Awards season.

In general I prefer books to movies.  Actually, movie popcorn is one of my favourite foods, but I still prefer books over movies.  Books are so convenient, you can imagine the characters to look any way you please, it is so easy to flip back a few pages to re-read, and you can carry one in your purse or backpack – it’s perfectly portable entertainment.  I almost always say that I prefer books over movies when a person asks the question “which do you prefer; books or movies?”  In this year’s list of nominated films there is one movie that will allow you to be a fan of both the movie and the book.  I am always excited when my favourite actors, films and songs are nominated for awards but this year I was beyond thrilled when the documentary Life, Animated was added to the shortlist for Best Documentary Feature. This movie is about the life of Owen Suskind , the son of Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of several NYT bestsellers.

When Ron’s son Owen was a toddler he began to turn inward and lose the ability to communicate with his family.  Owen had been chatty and outgoing when he slowly stopped talking to his parents and brother.  Once they received the diagnosis of autism this Massachusetts family were set on the path of sorting through the different theories and therapies while coping with incredible stress.  One day, amidst all of their frustration, they thought they could detect something familiar in the sounds that Owen was making and they realized he was quoting the dialogue of a character from the Walt Disney film The Little Mermaid.  Like many children growing up in the ‘90s Owen and his brother were fans of watching Walt Disney movies and he had made an important connection with the world created by those masterful storytellers.  With the help of these captivating tales he begins to slowly break through and communicate with his parents and older brother Walter.

Owen’s father wrote about their family history in his memoir, Life animated : A story of sidekicks, heroes and autism, published in 2014 and it is a remarkable window into a story that shares the disappointment of coping with a school system that does not always seem to welcome Owen, a complex medical organization that is not providing answers and a world that isn’t ready to receive a family that doesn’t fit the narrow constraints of what seems ‘normal’.  His record of their family’s struggle to try and find support for Owen in their community is sometimes hard to read and when they have their first breakthrough in communication through the Walt Disney dialogue and music I absolutely cried.  I was thinking to myself – of course, he is talking about the witch in The Little Mermaid – she is stealing Ariel’s voice and he wants to have a voice!  This is a book that makes every scene, every conversation come alive.  They don’t award Pulitzer Prizes to just anyone, you know.

The documentary that the Suskind family created with Academy Award-nominated director Roger Ross Williams uses wonderful footage from their family’s videos, spectacular original animation, and current footage of what Owen’s life is like now as he takes his first steps toward living independently.  He is moving into his own apartment, starting a job and running a Disney film appreciation club.  It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016 and has never stopped winning awards because of the joy it brings to see a young man who so loves movies and music on your screen.  When he speaks in the voices of characters like those from Aladdin and The lion king, using perfect cadence and dialogue, it is magical to watch.

So this is one of those rare times in life when I didn’t have to say I favoured the book over the movie.  I pick them both and so should you.  And, if you haven’t had a chance to see the film or read the book before the night of the Academy Awards then spend some time and look at the trailer for the film (www.lifeanimateddoc.com) and learn a little more about Owen and his family.  You will be cheering for them when they win.

– – Penny M.

 

Pink Shirt Day

Acts of Kindness – Anti-bullying Day

What is Pink Shirt Day?

In 2007, two high school students in a small town in Nova Scotia witnessed a fellow male student being bullied simply for wearing the colour pink. The next day hundreds of students arrived at school wearing pink clothing to show that they were taking a stand against the bullies.  That story inspired the Pink Shirt Day movement.

Bullying is a serious issue in schools, places of employment, homes and online. We hope that this list of books (for children, teens, parents, adults) will provide some assistance, help increase awareness and help others understand and stand up against bullying.

Click here to view the complete Pink Shirt Day book list.  

All books on the list are in the WPL collections.

A Tribute to Stuart McLean

vinylcafeI’m one of the thousands of people who would regularly sit in my car on the driveway to listen to the end of a Stuart McLean story or sometimes even sit listening to it in the Zehrs parking lot.  I would laugh and sometimes I would cry in my car.  Once in a while I would drive home listening to him and then run desperately into the house with a bag that had perishable food and call out to my kids “please take this ice cream, or whatever else I had in the bags, down to the freezer for me” and they would know that I had to listen to the rest of his incredible tale and couldn’t spare a moment to go to the basement myself.  Often they would come back up and listen to it with me.  When the CBC radio hosts talked about Stuart McLean’s death this morning my poor kids had to watch me cry while I packed school lunches but I was laughing while I cried because it was that story of poor, beleaguered Dave as he realizes that he just might have let Morley down by not just forgetting to defrost the turkey but never purchasing it at all.

We are lucky here at WPL because although the Vinyl Cafe was such a beloved radio program we have Stuart McLean’s books and voice here on the shelves and available through Overdrive (eBooks and eAudio books).  Many, many weekends I have checked out favourite stories so that I could enjoy them again.  Also, for the pleasure of listening to that voice, each word so well-planned, adding in a pause because he knew that if he didn’t take a moment he might start to laugh himself (which he would, if you ever had the chance to see him perform) I adored the opportunity to check out one of his CDs to play in my kitchen whenever I wanted to.

Fans often spoke about his ability to make the everyday special in his writing.  The stories that he wrote about Dave, Morley, Stephanie and Sam allowed us to see them grow from a young couple who met and courted (remember those early days or when Morley was pregnant with Stephanie?) and then as they wrestled with the big parenting decisions, so many decisions.  We all felt like we got to know Dave and Morley’s extended family and there is probably nothing that I loved more than a visit home to Big Narrows – it’s almost like Morley’s mother Helen is as comforting to me as the mothers of my friends from elementary school and I could say the same about Dave’s mother Margaret.

Many of the stories involve well-meaning mistakes that Dave made, you know, forgetting to cook the turkey or losing his wedding with the duck, that incredible tale of him trying out a racing bike – a Pinarello – by climbing on top of a neighbour’s car, clipping his feet into the pedals and then becoming trapped up there.  I laugh and laugh every time even though I know exactly what will happen next.  It’s exquisite timing and perfect word choice.  I think that I prefer the more subtle moments he wrote though.  I think I liked it best when he talked about Sam and his best friend Murphy and their adventures at school, or how Sam got his first job, what it was like when Stephanie started university or the sweet things that they did with their elderly neighbours Eugene and Maria.  And, neighbours!  Oh, my goodness, the Turlingtons, the Andersons, dear Carl Lowbeer and his sourdough starter that Dave tried to keep going for him.  I’ve always been a bit afraid to try making sourdough bread after reading that book.

And yet maybe I will give that sourdough starter a try because in the radio shows, live shows and in his books Stuart McLean was really telling us about a world where people were connecting with their friends and neighbours and trying things, making life better.  He was an optimistic writer but it was never a perfect world that he was writing about.  I feel like the newspaper tributes are wrong when they call him ‘folksy’ because he told the truth in his work – he didn’t shy away from the darker moments in life – there were misunderstandings and heartbreak in some of the the things he wrote.  It wasn’t all turkeys and Christmas cake.  He also took the time to write about important moments in Canadian history and crossed the country doing 150 shows a year.  Each time he did his live shows he would stop and talk to people, using those moments as an opportunity to find something new and true to life to write about.  He won the Stephen Leacock Medal three times for humour writing – so well deserved and so very lucky for us.  In December of 2016 he shared a statement about his health to let fans know that The Vinyl Cafe wouldn’t be on the radio as it was just playing repeat episodes, taking up space on the radio that could be given to artists and producers who were working on new material.  He said that “things don’t always go exactly as planned” and that we should all “look after ourselves and each other” which is always such good advice.  So, let’s all do that.  Let’s read a story written by a creative and thoughtful man or better yet, you can listen to him read it in his own voice.  Let’s take some time to read and laugh and cry, all thanks to Stuart McLean.

– – Penny M.

Juliet’s Answer by Glenn Dixon

juliets-answerI love reading a good romance novel.  I also love reading bad romance novels and everything that comes in between.  I read them all.  I lay the blame for this love of reading romantic books that have a happy ending on Lucy Maud Montgomery.  Her books were my first repeat reads from my local library and I would check them out over and over again.  Happy endings are just so reliable and many times I feel comfort in knowing that a book is going to provide me with one.  Anne would forgive Gilbert for calling her “Carrots” and he would pardon her ferocious temper.  I love a clever ‘meet cute’ and am so pleased when an author takes me by surprise whether it is with boy-meets-girl, girl-meets-girl, boy-meets-boy, as long as there is a cheerful love story at the core.  I agree 100% with Lin-Manuel that “love is love is love” so if the author adds a little turmoil into the middle of the book (to keep me guessing) and then everyone sorts things out at the end it is the perfect love story for me.

Our shelves are filled with books that provide this kind of reading pleasure and customers take them out in large number and then share their happiness in reading them at all of our service desks.  When someone returns a good romance and shares their enthusiasm over it I will often check to see if I have read it or not.  Sometimes I place a hold on that great book and often I make a note so that I can tell someone else about it.  It’s always fun to try something new and I like to share a fun customer recommendation with others.  Word of mouth reviews are so much better than the ones you read in a publication because they come from real life experience.

I recently read a book that was jam-packed, beginning to end, with an exploration of romance and I was amazed by what I read.  It was a book that I couldn’t stop reading.  A one afternoon kind of read.  You see, I thought that the book was just a traditional memoir written by a high school English teacher.  I was thinking of something academic, maybe?  Instead it was fascinating and heartbreaking and so very contemporary, truly beautiful.  He blends his time as a volunteer in Verona, working as one of Juliet’s secretaries, answering some of the thousands of letters that pour into Verona each year, his own research into what can make or break a romantic relationship, one of the years he spends teaching a class about Romeo and Juliet and the story of his own broken heart.  It’s a perfect blend of facts and swoon-worthy details and it really works.

We’ve all read Romeo and Juliet (although I have to say that I prefer the snappier version that Bernstein and Sondheim created in 1957) and many of the lines that they speak have become a part of popular culture but seeing it through the eyes of this 20-year veteran as he teaches made it a whole new thing for me.  I did prefer the sections where he was interacting with the kids – the way that they explored the themes of the work and interacted with each other, testing their limits with the teacher and working through language that they found difficult – but the entire book was an easy, pleasurable read.

I was amazed to read that thousands of people write to Juliet and travel to Verona to visit the sites of her tomb, the homes of the Montague and Capulet families and even the spot where Tybalt and Mercutio duel (although that does not quite seem as romantic to me).  What a wonderful thing to imagine that families, couples and individuals will make plans to visit these places in honour of a love story that has been re-told for hundreds of years (or longer, depending on the research that you read).  Love stories endure because it is a universal theme and although it really didn’t work out for Romeo and Juliet we have hundreds and hundreds of books on the shelves where there are truly happy endings.  We have novels, graphic novels and movies where people find their happy ending and we can help you to find one that suits you.  Just come on in to the library and ask us.

– – Penny M.

Love

I’ve been wondering lately what makes the Obamas as wonderful as they are. Like many of us, I am grieving the end of the Presidency not only because of what is happening now, but because I miss them. Is this sincere or am I simply getting caught up in emotions being thrown around on social media?

When I read Ann Patchett’s piece in Time Magazine I better understood my feelings. Above everything, as Ann says (and she’s pretty much always right) the Obamas showed us love. They were a wonderful example of family love and married love. They showed kindness to strangers without ever being insincere, it was just the way they lived and we were privileged to be close enough to see it.

So these days I want to read about love, not the romantic kind but about love and goodness and people trying to do the right thing.

Jade Chang’s The Wangs vs the World was a great book to read while ringing in the New Year. It is about a Chinese family whose patriarch loses the family business. He came to America with nothing, built a million dollar industry and raised his family only to let them down by losing it all. This novel reads like a road trip. The family travels across the country to meet up at the oldest daughter’s home, the only home they have left. Parts of the novel are about the characters as individuals and their backstories. To me, the novel shines when the family is together and we see the love they discover for one another after many years apart.

I once read that Michelle Obama never wanted us to think that her marriage was in any way perfect or without troubles. This family definitely has their problems, but they are trying and they are good and whether they always like it or realize it, things are best when together.

– – Sarah C.

Becoming Unbecoming

myfriend   ethel   becoming   secret

I’m not a huge graphic novel fan. They’re really not my thing.

To date, I have read two graphic novels. Yup, that’s a whole big two of them. I’ve previously read  Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs which I found utterly charming. And also one recommended  by a former WPL staff person, My friend Dahmer, by Derf Backderf. The author knew the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in high school and writes a pretty interesting account of him.

So this brings me to my third graphic novel, Becoming unbecoming, by Una. It’s easy to say what it’s about—sexual violence against women—but it’s a lot harder to describe or categorize.

The author presents her own story of being sexually assaulted as a young girl and the varying emotions she felt. The Yorkshire Ripper also comes into the story, as he was at large at the same time and place where Una grew up (northern England in the 1970s).

Also thrown into the mix are stats on sexual violence, various musings and some pretty pointed questions (for instance, why does it take so many women to bring sexual assault charges against one man before they are believed. Yes, Bill Cosby, she’s talking about you.)

I really like the way Una ends the book. She does a drawing of each one of the Yorkshire Ripper’s 13 female victims, imagining what they would be doing now if still alive. All too often it seems we focus on the killer and forget the victims.

 Becoming Unbecoming is an interesting and powerful read. Hmm, maybe time to revise my opinion of graphic novels.

I just want to add that I have a hold on another graphic novel, Secret Path, by Gordon Downie (of the Tragically Hip) and Jeff Lemire. It’s a true, but unbearably sad, story about a 12-year-old native Canadian boy.

– – Penny D.

Fun, Foodie Mysteries

Mystery novels. Are you a fan of them? I am, to a point.  This is not my #1 favourite genre but there definitely are some mystery series that I absolutely love.  The series which I do read faithfully are by British authors and the tone is generally between a cozy mystery and a thriller.

A colleague of mine who loved gory police procedurals used to comment on the fact that both she and I read mysteries but mine were the ones with the “bloodless” murders.  And really, that’s true. I have no interest in reading a book that will give me nightmares and I’m definitely more about the solving of the crime(s) through deduction rather than guns ablazing and shootouts in the menacing back alleys of big cities.

Sometimes though I need a change from the small village, multiple murder novels from the UK and switch to something lighthearted. These two American authors fit the bill.

Diane Mott Davidson was probably one of the earlier foodie mystery writers, starting her Goldy Schulz mystery series over 25 years ago with Catering to Nobody.  Goldy is a single mother who is trying to raise her son while make a living in Colorado as a caterer. In the course of building her client list and catering at various locations, public and private, evil doings start to occur and Goldy can’t help but become involved. Catering to Nobody was nominated for an Agatha Award for in the “Best First Novel” category but was beaten out by Katherine Hall Page for The Body in the Belfry.  All of Davidson’s novels include recipes of dishes mentioned in the story and in fact, in 2015, Davidson released a combination cookbook-memoir titled Goldy’s Kitchen Cookbook : cooking, writing, family, life.

The other is G.A. McKevett.  McKevett (a pseudonym for Sonja Massie) is the author of 50 books which include the 22 (so far!) which feature ex-cop turned private detective Savannah Reid. The titles always make me smile (“Fat Free and Fatal”, “Corpse Suzette”, “Cooked Goose” … you get the idea) and so do the stories themselves. A transplanted Georgia peach and lover of fine dining and Southern homestyle delights, Savannah sets up the Moonlight Magnolia Detective Agency and soon is trying to clean up the streets of LA…or at least, her area of Southern California.

In a side note about culinary mysteries, back in the 90s British culinary writer, Janet Laurence, wrote a mystery series featuring (surprise, surprise) a culinary writer named Darina Lisle. They were light reads but the sleuthing was well thought out. If you can get your hands on them, they’re worth a read.

Enjoy this recipe from Diane Mott Davidson’s “Catering to Nobody”, a favourite with my family. And if you’re looking for a light mystery, give these authors a try.

— Sandi H.

Dungeon Bars (a.k.a. Oatmeal Raisin Bars)

1 c. unsalted butter, softened

½ c brown sugar

½ c white sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

1 c. all-purpose flour

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp baking soda

1 c. oatmeal

1 c. raisins

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream butter and sugars.  Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add in flour, salt and soda. Stir in oats and raisins.

Spread mixture in a lightly greased 9 x 13” pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool slightly and cut into bars.

The Hopefuls By Jennifer Close

When Art Imitates YOUR Life

During the summer of 2014 my family went on a trip to Washington DC. My husband had some work to do at the Smithsonian (which I didn’t realize, I’ll admit, is a collection of many incredible museums and not just one!) while our sons and I enjoyed the sites and some swimming. We stayed at the Hilton at Dupont Circle. It was a wonderful hotel with a gorgeous pool and more than enough food to keep us happy. We travelled in August and the weather was stifling so besides some walking trips to the museums (and one morning out when we got very lost very far from home) we stayed close to the hotel.

This week I began reading The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close. I wanted something a little lighter that the Elena Ferranti books  I’d been reading this year (my favourite of 2016!) but still something smart. This novel fits the bill. It is about a young couple who move to Washington DC (didn’t see that coming, did you?) to work on the Obama campaign. It’s a great story but what drew me in right away was that the couple buy a house across from the Hilton Hotel and Dupont Circle, and often go swimming in our pool! Maybe this is just me but it doesn’t take much to make me happy and so this was quite exciting.

The best part was when the narrator refers to the hotel as the place where the attempted assassination of President Reagan took place in 1981. I was there and I didn’t know because perhaps running around after two boys under ten kept me from reading something I should have prior to the trip. I was to busy packing swim trunks and sun screen and Wimpy Kid books. I’ll admit that at times I was also busy pretending to be Leslie Knoppe from Parks and Recreation, but again, that’s just me.

I’m not quite finished the novel but it has kept me reading and wanting to get back to it when I’m away. Jennifer Close is great at building tension slowly. Things aren’t going well for our young couple in DC, they are perhaps not as happy as the Obama’s were at the time. But who knows what will happen, how the next fifty pages will end. The Obama’s never would have predicted their ending in the White House as the way it’s about to happen, that’s for sure.

– Sarah C.