March Break Reads

There are thousands (and thousands and thousands) of great junior fiction books just waiting to be read on March Break. Here’s my Top 4.

Missing Mike by Shari Green

Missing Mike is a love story between a little girl and her canine best friend Mike. Mike Wazowski isn’t much to look at. Mike has one eye, an ear-and-a-half, four legs and a tail. He’s named after the one-eyed green monster from Monsters Inc. At the breeders he sat at the back of cage, behind a pile of adorable puppies, probably because he didn’t think anyone would want him. But one little girl did. She saw something special in him. You see, Mike is a survivor. He came from somewhere but got lost and ended up in a fight with coyotes. That’s how he lost his eye (and half an ear). However, Mike didn’t give up. He was eventually found and came to live with Cara Donovan and her family in Pine Grove.

When the story opens, it is summer. It’s been hot and dry. The smell of wildfire starts to settle over Pine Grove and the town is put on evacuation alert. When the flames grow closer Cara’s family has only ten minutes to pack and flee from the approaching fire. In the midst of the commotion, Mike disappears. There is no time to look for him. Once her family makes it to safety, the heartbroken and guilt-ridden Cara makes a plan to go back and search for her best friend.

Missing Mike brings up a lot of questions. What makes a home? Is it four walls and a roof? Is it the people we love the most? Or is a home simply a feeling of comfort and safety? Or is it a combination of all three? To eleven-year-old Cara, a home means only one thing – her dog.

The story is full of emotion and had me tearing up on more than one occasion. The love Cara has for Mike is pure and genuine and you can’t help but get pulled into her desperation to find him. It is written in verse which makes it quick to read but also adds to the beauty of the story. Missing Mike is a Silver Birch Award Nominee and definitely has my vote for Best Junior Fiction Book.

Krista Kim-Bap by Angela Ahn

Krista is comfortable in her own skin. She is a third-generation Korean-Canadian who wears jeans and t-shirts and always has her hair in a ponytail. Her best friend is a reddish-brown headed boy named Jason. She is happy with things the way they are. The problem is everyone else seems to think she needs to be someone else. Her grandma wants her to wear nice shoes and style her hair. Her new friends want her to dress fashionably and gossip. Things get more complicated when her fifth grade teacher assigns a heritage project. Her family’s roots are in Korea but her parents were born in Canada. They don’t even speak Korean at home.

Krista Kim-Bap is a very rich book that covers a variety of issues. Identity is a large theme in the book, but it also opens up a lot of discussion about family, friendship, culture and even cuisine. Krista is a very relatable character, especially to anyone who wasn’t the ‘favourite’ child growing up. I admired her confidence and ability to stay true to herself. I look forward to sharing this book with our young customers.

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

No Fixed Address tackles the issue of hidden homelessness. When we think of “homeless” we tend to think of people sleeping on the street but homelessness is not always so obvious. It can be people with no permanent home who are living with family, staying in motels or relying on shelters.

Felix and his mother, Astrid, live in a van. They used to live in a condo. Then it was an apartment. Then they moved into a basement apartment. Astrid held two jobs but ended up losing both of them. Unexpected expenses came up with no extra money to cover them and pretty soon they didn’t have enough money for rent. Felix and Astrid stayed with friends for a time but ultimately ended up calling a Westfalia van home.

Life at school for Felix is difficult. He doesn’t always get to shower. He doesn’t always get enough to eat. He has to make up excuses to his best friends about why they can’t hang out at his ‘house’. But things start to look up when he auditions for the junior edition of “Who, What, Where, When” (similar to Jeopardy). If he wins, the prize money could mean putting a real roof over their heads for the first time in months.

Author Susin Nielsen, brings up another overlooked issue of homelessness: it’s not just individuals who are affected – whole families can be without a permanent place to live. Set in Vancouver, there are plenty of Canadian references woven into the story. It was a light and enjoyable read but with lots of room for discussion.

Sparks! by Ian Boothby

Sparks ComicI fell in love with Sparks! on the first page. This graphic novel is about two cats that save the world while dressed in a robotic dog suit. You see, the hero felines quickly learn that no one really trusts a cat. However, everyone does trust a dog. So the cats create a dog suit. August is the dog suit inventor. Charlie is the dog suit pilot. Together, they battle an evil alien who takes the form of a human baby. Oh, and their story is told from the point of view of their litter box.

Before they became heroes, August and Charlie were held prisoner and used as test subjects for scientific experiments. As a result, they develop super powers. They escape. August uses her super intelligence to design “Sparks” the super dog and their quest to save lives begins.

August and Charlie have an ‘odd couple’ type of relationship. August is an intellectual indoor cat. Charlie is a courageous outdoor cat. Their personality clashes make for some great dialogue.

Sparks! is pure fun and even the most reluctant readers will have a good time reading it. It’s just so off the wall, you can’t help but smile.

— Lesley L.

Pizza & Murder!

Pizza 911

9781459728073On a cold winter’s day there is nothing better to do than to curl up with a good mystery and a hot slice of pizza. Put the two together and you get Pizza 911.

A coworker of mine discovered this gem sometime ago. It actually became something of a joke amongst the WPL staff. It just looked so ridiculous. We’ve seen our fair share of odd books here at the library but this one was right at the top. Pizza 911. Complete with a cover showing a pizza cutter covered in blood. But then one day, I had nothing to read, so I thought…..why not?

Well let me tell you, this book had us all fooled. Pizza 911 a great read. Seriously. It’s a clever, fast-paced mystery about Vancouver-based crime journalist Hakeem Jinnah who is struggling to keep his status as a front page reporter. He gets a tip about a ghastly murder – a body was found inside a pizza oven. Desperate to get the scoop on the murder before anyone else, Jinnah follows the clues to a biker bar where a rage-fueled brawl erupts. Satisfied that he’s on the right trail, the mystery leads Jinnah all the way to Africa.

Jinnah is an unscrupulous, egotistical, self-centered jerk but somehow author Donald Huaka makes him very likable. He mixes in the right amount of humour with Jinnah. I found myself laughing at his egocentric outbursts and cunning journalistic tactics. You can’t help but root for him when the pieces of the mystery start to fall into place. His world of tabloid journalism is so accurately described, right down to the adrenaline addicted reporters eager to stab each other in the back for a lead, to the no-nonsense editor nicknamed “Frosty.”

I guess I learned my lesson. Don’t judge a book by cover – or its title. I enjoyed every minute of this story and I was happy to find out that reporter Hakeem Jinnah appears in another novel: She Demons.

If you need a fun, quick read, give Pizza 911 a try. Then check out Joe Beddia’s Pizza Camp and learn how to make some real gourmet pizza.

Pizza Camp

31305588Joe Beddia didn’t plan on owning a pizzeria but that’s where he ended up. Food was a big part of his childhood and he still remembers the taste of Argento’s cheese pizza from when he was a kid. Beddia studied hotel, restaurant and institutional management in school, which led him to working in numerous pizzerias. Finally, he opened his own pizza shop, Pizzeria Beddia, in 2013. A few years later, Bon Appetit voted it the “Best Pizza in America.” Beddia has now shared some of his best recipes in Pizza Camp.

Pizza Camp is unlike any cookbook I’ve ever read. It is part recipes, part artwork and part memoir. The beginning of the book starts off with very basic instructions, including a diagram of how to set up your cooking space with ”stainless steel bowl” and “cheese grater” labeled for clarity. The recipes are organized from basic pizza to composed pizza – with every kind of pizza you’d ever want. This includes: pistachio pesto, fennel and sausage, as well as breakfast pizza, just to name a few.

The pictures in the book aren’t just your typical shots of ingredients and perfectly baked food. There are street shots, food inspired landmarks and a section of just dogs eating pizza. Dozens of anecdotes are intermixed with the recipes, often detailing what inspired a particular pizza creation. For example, the creation of marinara and anchovy pizza is quite a story:

“Some drunk guy invented this pizza. He came into the shop and ordered, ‘Hold the mozzarella cheese, add garlic and anchovy. The grated cheese is ok, too, but no mozzarella.’ And then didn’t come back to pick it up. That forced me to eat it and I discovered how great this pizza is. “

Even if you don’t use any of the recipes, Pizza Camp is so full of interesting stories that it reads like a regular book. There is plenty of Beddia’s personality sprinkled in the pages which makes for a light and enjoyable read.

— Lesley L.

Joe Beddia’s Marinara and Anchovy Pizza (14 inch to 16 inch)

1 ball of dough
1.5 cups tomato sauce
1 or 2 large cloves of garlic (or more, if you like) thinly sliced
2 pinches of Sicilian oregano
3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup or more grated hard cheese
6 to 8 anchovy fillets cut in half

Preheat the oven and pizza stone to 500°F or if possible, 550°F.

(To make the dough and the sauce there are great instructions in another section of the book)

Spread sauce on the dough. Add the garlic then the oregano and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bake until well done. Just keep checking so you don’t burn it. Look for the cheese to color and the crust to turn a deep brown. This pizza normally cooks a minute or two faster than one with cheese. It will also be crispier. (Both good things.)

Sprinkle the grated hard cheese over the finished pie. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cut the pizza. Lastly, arrange your anchovies so each slice has one anchovy, adding more if you like.

 

Turning 100

Frank’s Jewellers and the Ellis Little History Room

There is a prevailing perception that libraries are a place for books only. Like most library customers, I’ve spent most of my years visiting WPL for the sole purpose of checking out books. It wasn’t until my teen years that I discovered that the library also has a vast collection of movies, CDs, audio books and programs. Yet the one resource that remained elusive to me over the years was the Ellis Little Local History room. The door was always open and inviting, but I didn’t have a reason to venture inside. It wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that I went in for the first time.

I’ve grown up in Waterloo with a strong connection to the King Street business community. My father was the owner of Mr. Sub for forty-one years. I spent many summers and weekends serving sandwiches and smiles to both Waterloo patrons and neighbouring business owners regularly. The King Street business community as I remember it was tight knit and familial. While we were known as the place to pick up a quick lunch, there were other businesses on King Street that were known for other things: McPhail’s for sports equipment, Tora Tattoo for piercings and tattoos, Ontario Seed for seeds (and a handful of peanuts for my dad), and Frank’s Jewellers for jewellery and gifts.

franks 001Since my dad retired in July 2016, I’ve found myself missing that connection to the Uptown Waterloo community. It wasn’t until Bob Frank, owner of Frank’s Jewellers, approached me with a local history inquiry that I found a way to reconnect with the uptown business community. How was I going to do my research? I would begin by visiting the Ellis Little Local History room.

His inquiry was simple. Bob, the third-generation owner and operator of Frank’s Jewellers on King Street, wanted to confirm that his business was indeed celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2019. Realizing that the Ellis Little Local History Room was the best place to begin my research, I made my first visit and began exploring the shelves of Vernon business directories, local business news clippings, and archives of photo negatives to find evidence that in 1919, Bob’s grandfather, W.P. Frank, took over operations from the previous owner.

During this search, my research expanded from finding evidence to solve this important question to finding any artifacts that trace the mark Frank’s Jewellers has had on the Uptown business community for the past one hundred years. The search has been fruitful! I’ve found many old articles and pictures in the Ellis Little Local History room. I’ve found pictures that reflect the changing landscape of King Street over the years like the image above of Frank’s Jewellers from the mid-1970’s when Bob’s father was the owner.

franks 002

 I’ve also found pictures that reflect the strength and camaraderie of the Waterloo business community that traces back to July 27, 1938 when a wide landscape of Waterloo merchants gathered for a first annual picnic which Bob’s grandfather, W.P. Frank (Picture left: middle row center with striped tie) attended.

I’ve lost myself for hours poring over business directories, maps, and books that map the history of Waterloo Region by local authors. I know I’ve only scratched the surface but these discovers have allowed me to appreciate the library for another purpose: being a local history keeper. The library not only brings people together for a love of reading, but for a shared history of our community that has grown from the small farming town to a modern tech start-up city.

Another local history resource that I’ve perused is OurOntario where I’ve searched through thousands of photographs as well as digitized Waterloo Chronicle newspapers. It’s an excellent resource that saves the time and energy previously spent going through microfilm and has been a very helpful resource.

The online and offline history collection at the Waterloo Public Library has been and continues to be an excellent resource to find answers to any local history inquiries. Should you require help with more specific requests, contact Janet Seally to assist your local history missions. To see Frank’s Jeweller’s collection of historical artifacts, follow them on Instagram and/or Facebook.

It’s easy to live somewhere for your whole life without questioning where you live. You may have just moved to Waterloo two years ago. You may be a third-generation resident. It’s worth questioning and learning about the place you live in because each of us plays a part in how it became the place you inhabit today. History may be the story of our past, but it’s easy to overlook our place in the present.

— Eleni Z.

The Matchmaker’s List

The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli is a heartwarming and impressive debut novel that is a mix of a few things. It’s a sweet coming-of-age story with a touch of romance, a sprinkle of humour and a dash of Canadian pride that looks at the positive aspects and complications of family, friendship, culture and community.

While it appears to be a cute romantic comedy (and it is!), Lalli also introduces several deeper issues into a story that focuses on one determined grandmother as she tries to find her single granddaughter Raina a husband. Readers get a look into the rich Canadian-Indian culture of Raina’s family and also witness the pressures it puts on three generations of women. It’s through these relationships of family and friends that Lalli shows how cultural expectations can sometimes clash with individual needs.

The story is set in “Toronno” (aka Toronto) and with Lalli’s vivid descriptions of that vibrant city and its diversity, it makes it a great setting for this story. And can I just say how much I love it when a Canadian author sets their story in Canada?!!

My only issue with the book is how Raina, in one instance, tries to curtail her grandmother’s husband hunting. It just didn’t sit well with me. While I appreciated the discussions it will create and the insight it gives readers about an aspect of the Indian community, I wasn’t fond of the execution and felt this misunderstanding went on for too long. However, it will spark some good book club discussions!

Overall, this was an enjoyable multi-cultural romance that had a touch of humour and went beyond the typical romantic fluff. I applaud the author for tackling larger issues including diversity, acceptance versus shame, multicultural and generational differences, and the deep influence tradition and culture have on people of all generations.

— Laurie P.

Waffles, Knope & Galentine’s Day

February needs all the help it can get. It’s the shortest month in the calendar but just seems so long. Breaking it up midway with a cheerful holiday on the 14th really helps give February a much needed boost. Here at the library we celebrate Library Lovers month in February so it’s a special month for us and in recent years I have also been participating in the wonderful celebration of Galentine’s Day, on February 13th, with the encouragement of friends. I’ve found that this makes all the difference in getting me through the second month of the year.

If you aren’t yet participating in this worldwide celebration sensation you can get started by watching Parks and Recreation, Season Two (Episode Sixteen) where the always enthusiastic Leslie Knope first brings all of her very best female friends together for a brunch which she describes as being “…like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas!”

Knope honours her friends with appropriate gifts (Leslie is the best at gift giving) and the personalized gift bags include fabulous items including gorgeous mosaics she has made of their faces. In seasons four and six of the show the writers return to Galentine’s Day and the theme of enjoying breakfast foods continues as does the emphasis on the strength of friendship. These are traditions worth adopting and you can find inspiration across the Internet as the special season arrives.

Turn to Etsy for gifts and cards made by talented artists. Or look to our collection of books that can help you to craft something special for your friends. I think a sweet little origami box made in your BFF’s favourite colour that you fill with delicious treats could be just the thing to drop into her book bag on February 13th. Or, if you really want to do this Knope-style you can make that mosaic of her face but you’d better get started now. That kind of gifting magic takes a long time to pull together.

Cover.final_.wAnother great way to celebrate Galentine’s Day is with a wonderful meal. We have so many great spots in town that you can hit for a delicious meal but how about you invite some friends over to your house for some treats and a good long chat about your friendship. There really is nothing better. When you eat at home there is no chance of feeling like you need to give up your table because the restaurant is getting busy – it’s your table. Just brew some more coffee or boil additional water for tea and make the fun last longer. It’s the best feeling. You can choose to go with a Parks and Rec classic and make the very best waffles or splash out make frittatas. You can’t help but be inspired by this 2017 cookbook from Rebecca Wellman, called First, we brunch: recipes and stories from Victoria’s best breakfast joints – your breakfast and brunch will really never be the same.

Should you feel like you want to keep your Parks and Rec vibe going after February 13th I heartily recommend the books of actors Amy Poehler and Retta (both women narrate their own audiobooks so you could listen to their wonderful voices tell you the secrets behind filming the television show where they first met – it is so much fun).

And finally. A personal tip. If you cut up your waffles in advance and make a small pool of whipped cream on your plate, you can dip each bite one-handed while you hold your book in the other hand and make it seem like you are celebrating a one person Galentine’s Day at any time of the year. We are all, as Lesley Knope says, “…beautiful rule-breaking moths.”

— Penny M.

Graphic Novels : way more than superheroes

Are you a graphic novels fan? Until recently my answer would have been a resounding “no.” Just not my cup of tea, or so I thought. But one day, more out of idle curiosity than anything, I decided to give them a shot. Now graphic novels are a part—not a big part, mind you, but still a part—of my reading repertoire.

Here’s what I like about ’em. They allow for a fairly quick and easy read but then you can go back for a second (or third) look and discover things you didn’t see the first time round. Also, the words and pictures work together in a very special way so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I think you call that “synergy”.

This is the one I’m reading right now: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (2018). Krosoczka has written and illustrated a number of kids’ books, including the very popular Lunch Lady series. In this outing, Jarrett tells his own story and that of his big, messy, dysfunctional family. He was raised by his grandparents and never knew his father. As for his mother, she flitted in and out of his life but mostly she was gone. One day he learned the reason why: his mother was a heroin addict. Much of her adult life was spent either in jail, in rehab or using. For such a bleak subject, I found this book to be ultimately positive and affirming.

Here are some other graphic novels I have enjoyed over the years. All of them are real life stories (which I think is part of the appeal for me) and just note the incredible range of subject matter.

My Friend Dahmer by Derk Backderf. This was my intro to the graphic novel world and was recommended by a former WPL staffer. It’s the story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer while he was still in high school but already plenty disturbed. A very interesting read. You might want to check out the DVD of the same title. Actor Ross Lynch is excellent in the title role.

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs. The author, a renowned children’s illustrator, tells the story of his parents, two working class Londoners who met in the 1920’s and stayed together until their deaths. It is utterly delightful and more moving and funny than you might expect from a graphic novel. Also check out the DVD of the same title. Every bit as charming as the book.

Becoming Unbecoming by Una. This one is about sexual violence against women, including the author’s own experiences. There is a lot more going on in this book besides personal narrative (such as various stats, questions and musings) which adds to this graphic novel’s complexity. The illustrations perfectly express the author’s emotions.

Secret Path by Gord Downie (of The Tragically Hip) and Jeff Lemire. It’s a true, unbearably sad story about Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a 12-year-old Indigenous boy sent to a Canadian residential school. Then Chanie decided to run away… The story and images will haunt you.

— Penny D.

PS  And just released is Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. I haven’t read it yet, but it is getting a lot of buzz.

Marilla of Green Gables

Enthusiasts of Anne of Green Gables always worry –rightly so! – when a contemporary author takes on the task of writing a new story involving their favourite setting and characters. Is it possible to get it right or will the writer make a mess of it?

As someone who personally owns the full collection of Anne books, this was certainly my concern when I discovered that Sarah McCoy – an American author, no less! – had tackled Marilla’s story, bouncing off of this exchange between Marilla and Anne in chapter 37 of the original book:

“John Blythe was a nice boy. We used to be real good friends, he and I. People called him my beau.”

Anne looked up with swift interest.

“Oh, Marilla–and what happened?–why didn’t you–”

“We had a quarrel. I wouldn’t forgive him when he asked me to. I meant to, after awhile–but I was sulky and angry and I wanted to punish him first. He never came back–the Blythes were all mighty independent. But I always felt–rather sorry. I’ve always kind of wished I’d forgiven him when I had the chance.”

“So you’ve had a bit of romance in your life, too,” said Anne softly.

“Yes, I suppose you might call it that. You wouldn’t think so to look at me, would you? But you never can tell about people from their outsides. Everybody has forgot about me and John. I’d forgotten myself. But it all came back to me when I saw Gilbert last Sunday.”

McCoy’s story begins when Marilla is 13 years old and chronicles her life in Avonlea and at Green Gables. We experience her joys and sorrows and encounter familiar characters including Matthew Cuthbert, Rachel Lynde, the Barry family, and of course, John Blythe. We attend sewing circles, church picnics, Ladies’ meetings and a hanging, and visit a Nova Scotia orphanage on more than one occasion.

Just as Budge Wilson captured the essence and tone of Anne in Before Green Gables, Sarah McCoy has encapsulated Marilla’s story in this additional prequel, bringing in historical aspects such as the Underground Railroad and the rebellion of 1837. Marilla is smart, strong, capable and independent, but struggles with pride and difficulty communicating the deepest feelings of her heart to those she cares about most. She is family-oriented to a fault. Does this sound like the Marilla we know? It certainly makes me want to reread the series to remind myself!

McCoy herself reread the Anne books and conducted considerable research in writing this book, consulting primary and secondary resources, visiting the “Avonlea” area of PEI and interviewing L.M. Montgomery’s descendants, who gave her their stamp of approval.
Marilla of Green Gables is a great addition to the series and Christmas gift idea for your Anne fan. I only wish it had been written by a Canadian author!

— Susan B.

Ho-Ho-Holiday Magazines Are Here

There used to be a TV commercial featuring a mother celebrating the back-to-school season with the Andy Williams classic “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” playing in the background and that really bugged me. I understood why that mother felt so pleased about the return of her quiet time but I felt that advertising choice was a poor one. I prefer the regular routine of things – it’s comforting when things are in their correct place.

Holiday music should play in December (although Christmas CDs go out on the shelves a little earlier here at WPL so that customers can enjoy them) and should never be played in September to commemorate the sale of notebooks and pens. The malls and grocery stores stock up on gifts and wrapping paper and then, just as the holiday season starts to hit full steam, our collection of new Christmas magazines hit the shelves and this is beyond thrilling for me.

It’s the sheer diversity of the collection that makes me happy. We have baking magazines, ways to make your holiday more splendid with a crochet needle (also several magazines featuring knitting), we can encourage you to make something out of beads or you can just relax and look at Victorian homes decorated for the holidays. It’s all so beautiful and festive and each year I believe that I might actually do some of the things that the magazine editors suggest I do.

We keep a collection of these magazines in the library throughout the year so that customers can be inspired at any time but we purchase new ones every November so that customers can stay current on the trends in the holiday world – it’s exciting to see the latest news in cooking and gifting. I love it! It’s also handy to have these magazines available throughout the year as crafters certainly need a head start (especially on those beaded ornaments, oh my goodness, where does the patience come from?) if they are going to get things done on time and, if you plan to send anything by mail, then you need to add even more time to your planning.

Many magazine publishers like Canadian Living create special issues for the season so you can also have a look at the magazines on our regular shelves for inspiration as well. Don’t miss Martha Stewart living, Good Housekeeping or Marie Claire idées for show-stopping creativity (both Martha Stewart living and Good housekeeping are available through WPL’s RBdigital subscription too). You can start on your holiday baking, crafting and decorating from the comfort of your home using your device and your WPL card.

One customer favourite is from celebrity chef Ricardo Larrivée and the December 2018 issue features everything from deserts that are easy to take along if you have to travel over the holidays, to gift ideas for someone who enjoys food and cooking, and suggestions for ways to relax by embracing ‘imperfection’ in your holiday meal. The sweetest part of this issue is the article that features his daughter, Clémence, making her first holiday meal for the family. Her article is filled with bright young touches (and her Montreal apartment is a treat to see) and the recipes that she includes are a nice mix of old and new. Absolutely everything in this magazine looks delicious in each issue but the holiday mood and nostalgia from this article added to the appeal. I’ll be trying Clémence’s holiday dumplings (because they look delicious and fairly easy to make) and I probably won’t wait until the festive season begins to get started on those.

Come on into the library and peruse this glamorous selection of Christmas-themed magazines (we also have books and an endless supply of movies and CDs you can enjoy) and you too can believe that you might possibly try a recipe or craft that these clever editors suggest. Relish in some holiday fun through these glossy pages – consider it a gift that you give to yourself.

— Penny M.

Starlight

Full disclosure here….. I am a HUGE fan and admirer of Richard Wagamese!! He could write out my grocery list and I am sure that I could find poetic beauty throughout. So it was with very mixed feelings that I cracked open Starlight, Wagamese’s final offering. On the one hand I couldn’t wait to delve into it but on the other, I knew it was his last and I felt profound sadness at the loss of such a master writer.

Starlight is the story of six people whose lives are connected through vastly different circumstances. Emmy and her 8 year old daughter Winnie, on the run from two brutal and callous men, Cadotte and Armstrong, find themselves forced to do what it takes to survive. Having her child collaborate in the stealing of food and fuel breaks Emmy’s heart but desperation trumps morality when it comes to keeping her child safe. It is during a failed shoplifting attempt that Frank Starlight enters their lives.

Starlight, a man at peace with himself and the world around him, offers Emmy and Winnie a safe haven and an opportunity to rebuild their lives. Along with his hired hand, friend Eugene Roth, the woman and girl are exposed to the natural wonders of the world they inhabit. They learn how to be still in nature and to learn to listen and live in the wilderness.

While this transformation is happening, the two men from whom Emmy and Winnie broke free, are driven by a boundless depth of hatred, revenge and evil to avenge the damages inflicted upon them by the woman and girl during their escape.

The juxtaposition of pure love and pure evil are strikingly presented with Wagamese’s usual powerfully poetic prose. His artful descriptions of the landscape evoke such an intense sense of peace and tranquility while his portrayal of the violence and brutality of Cadotte and Armstrong induce visceral feelings of panic and fear.

I am in awe of this master writer and his ability to take me past the written word and into the moment itself. It is a transcendent experience all the more beautiful and mournful because he has penned his last prose.

— Nancy C.

The End of World Comes Close to Home

It took a long time for me to write about Moon of the Crusted Snow simply because I knew that nothing I could write would do the novel any justice. It was brilliant.

I knew Moon of the Crusted Snow would be on my favourite novels list even before I finished reading it. When I finished the novel, I immediately flipped back to page one and read it all over again. I just didn’t want it to end.

Winter is approaching in the remote Anishinaabe reservation in Northern Ontario. One day, people wake up to find the power has shut off. The internet is down. The phone lines do not work. A short time later, the water does not turn on. The community is completely cut off from the rest of the country. Most people in the community assume it’s a temporary problem – that workers will arrive shortly to fix the problem. But no one ever comes.

As the temperature drops and resources dwindle, they discover that the major cities have also gone dark. The power isn’t coming back on. The grid has collapsed. There are no reasons, no explanations and no answers. The modern world has ended.

Fear slowly takes hold of the community. How will they stay warm? How can they stay fed? How long can life continue? It evokes all sorts of questions – how long can anyone survive when everything you once had is gone?

It’s no surprise that author Waubgeshig Rice was the recipient of the Anishinabek Nation’s Debwewin Citation for Excellence in First Nation Storytelling. As I was reading, I could feel the cold in my bones as the winter conditions are described. I could feel the fear in the mothers and fathers when children start succumbing to the elements. I loved that he wrote parts of dialogue in the Ojibwe language and intertwined pieces of First Nations history throughout the story.

My only regret is that Moon of the Crusted Snow is too short. At just over 200 pages, there could be so much more to discover. After I finished reading, my mind kept going back to the people of Anishinaabe and what their community would look like five, ten, twenty years down the road without modern conveniences. I hope that Waubgeshig Rice will seriously consider doing a sequel.

Nothing I can say about this novel will accurately paint a picture of Waubgeshig Rice’s brilliant storytelling. Please pick up this book and discover his story for yourself.

— Lesley L.