The Defiant

Rarely will I ever read a book series out of order. Reading a series out of order can be a recipe for disaster. You risk the plot not making sense. You risk missing key character points. And truthfully, you’re losing the overall effect of the author’s storytelling. But every so often I will come across a book that is so interesting that I fall to the temptation of starting a series in the middle. The Defiant just had too many of my interests to pass up. It’s historical fiction, it takes place in ancient Rome and it has strong female characters that kick butt and take names. And it’s written by Lesley Livingston, who wrote The Wondrous Strange series which I adored. I was so thrilled when I saw it; I dove right in without reading the first book.

Set in ancient Rome during the reign of Julius Caesar, The Defiant tells the story of Fallon, the daughter of a Celtic King.  Her homeland was attacked by Roman forces and she was taken captive. Sold as a slave to a ludus (a gladiator academy) she now fights as a gladiatrix named “Victrix.” Over time she wins the love of the crowd but earns the ire of those she has defeated. She finds herself in a violent feud with a rival ludus and one night her academy falls under attack. Fallon and the other gladiatrices escape, however their survival as fugitives is uncertain.

Although there are records of female gladiators during Roman times, very little is known about them. Male gladiators were depicted in artwork all across the Empire, while only one example of female gladiators exists. Nothing is known about their training or fighting styles. This leaves the narration of their story wide open. Author Lesley Livingston makes good use of this creative freedom. Fallon’s fighting style is so formidable, I found myself silently cheering her on as I read.  There is a tight comradery between Fallon and her fellow warriors that isn’t common to read. Most often stories will pit woman against woman in a rivalry for success. In this story, these gladiatrices will gladly die for one another.

The Defiant may be the second book in the series but I didn’t find myself lost or confused. The back story was blended into the plot so well that I could navigate the story without missing anything. As soon as I finished the book, I put a copy of The Valiant (book #1) on hold, only to discover that there is third book (The Triumphant) in the series set to be released this spring.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction, action based stories, ancient Rome or women who kick butt.

— Lesley L.

 

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.

The Widows

I have to admit at the outset that I struggled a bit to get into The Widows by Jess Montgomery. I don’t know if it was the book or just my attitude at the time but I came very close to bailing. However, I am glad that I didn’t as I became quite engaged with the story and the strong female characters within.

Based in 1924 Ohio coal-mining country, this is the story of two women, both young widows, who overcome the powerful grip of grief and pain to stand strong for what they believe in. Lily Ross’s husband, Sheriff Daniel Ross, had been murdered and pregnant Lily is asked to replace him as Sheriff until elections can be held to fill the role ‘properly’. Marvena Whitcomb, Daniel’s best friend, (unbeknownst to Lily) is in the throes of grieving for her own husband who was killed in an explosion at Ross Mining Company’s Mine No 9, also known as “The Widowmaker”.

Two prominent themes, still evident today, thread through this story. Both Lily and Marvena are powerfully courageous women butting up against a male-dominant societal norm that is eager to suppress and negate them.

In a town where corporate greed has been responsible for the killing and maiming of many of the town’s miners, organizing for unionization puts Marvena directly in the sights of the ruthless mine owner, Luther Ross. He will stop at nothing to suppress calls for improved conditions at his mine.

Lily too meets powerful resistance as she tries to uncover the truth about her husband’s murder. In a town where trusting someone can be a fatal mistake, these two women must find the courage to overcome their fear and join forces to uncover the truth that will set them and their community free.

All of the female characters in this story demonstrate an iron rod of internal strength and commitment to caring and nurturing their families and their community.

In the author’s notes, Jess Montgomery talks about learning that in 1925, in Vinton County Ohio, a woman by the name of Maude Collins was elected Sheriff after filling the post temporarily upon the unexpected death of her husband, Fletcher Collins. She went on to have a long career in law enforcement.

Technically, The Widows is at times well-written and then, variously choppy. I struggled off and on to keep characters straight but the underlying story was strong and some of Montgomery’s descriptions of the countryside landscapes were just gorgeous. So, I would rate The Widows 3*** for writing but 4**** for the story and the character development.

— Nancy C.

On the Come Up

After devouring and waxing poetic about Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, I was among the eager fans awaiting On The Come Up. It’s a coming-of-age story about a Black teenage girl named Bri who finds her calling, the power of her own voice and, ultimately, discovers who she wants to be.

I easily connected with Thomas’ writing style. It’s powerful, engaging and authentic as she shows Bri and her family’s struggles to make ends meet and deal with their complicated past. Through her dialogue, she reveals the bonds between the characters and adds humorous bits, delightful nerdy references and some solid banter.

I loved that Bri is so different compared to Starr (the main character of The Hate U Give). She is brash, headstrong, outspoken and occasionally makes poor choices but its through those choices, and their consequences, that we see Bri find out who she wants to be. She is flawed but passionate and once she focuses on what’s important to her, she is a force to be reckoned with.

Angie Thomas need not worry about Sophomoric Writer Blues. On The Come Up is a wonderful, thought-provoking read about self-discovery and while many readers may not connect with Bri’s hip hop world, Thomas has written a story about relatable issues (loss, friendship, the messiness of family, standing up for yourself) and allows her readers to take a look at the world through Bri’s eyes and walk in her Timberlands for at least a few hundred pages.

— Laurie P.

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.

Bibliophile : an illustrated miscellany

As the cliché goes, never judge a book by its cover. Judging a book by its cover enables us to prejudge the worth or value of stories by its initial outward appearance.  Yet, what if we celebrated books by creating a book of curated lists of books while illustrating their covers? Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount is a book about books, or more accurately, a book with illustrations of curated stacks of the most defining books in every genre you can think of. But that’s not all this book is about. There are five-word literary quizzes that challenge readers to guess the book by a five-word summary and there are pages dedicated to authors’ workspaces including the likes of Dylan Thomas and Roald Dahl.  Other pages are devoted to illustrating notable bookstores, libraries, and even bookmobiles around the world.

Bibliophie is a book for book lovers. For a person like me who likes the written word so much, it was a refreshing wonder to see a visual celebration of the most influential books over the years. Each page stacks iconic book spine atop of iconic book spine. It’s a treasure trove of literary facts and wonders. It’s delightful to not only read through, but get lost in looking at each title on the spines of every book, either seeing perennial favourites, or discovering an unfamiliar cover, a new intriguing title to add to a new ending TBR pile.

I think readers can be the hardest on books because of their covers. We tend to judge them in seconds based on whether they catch our eye, how the design is meant to symbolize what the story is ultimately about, or we even judge a book by its dense length. This book seems to minimize those impulses and aims at making you focus on not its cover, but the spine: The title. What does the title say about the story? Do the words themselves entice you? What do they allude to?

Bibliophile is a playful book that is as delightful as it is whimsical. It’s a celebration of the rich collections of books that humanity has circulated for centuries. It is also the epitome of modern bookish culture that in our ever-present digital world continues to grow and preserve our storytelling tradition. For all booklovers, this is a book to check out, test your bookish knowledge, and discover other miscellaneous facts that will fuel your passion for books.

— Eleni Z.

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.

Book Clubs @ WPL

I recently had the chance to facilitate one of the WPL Book Clubs as the staff person who usually fills that role was ill.  It was an absolute pleasure.  I came away from the hour that I spent with that group of WPL readers feeling more enthusiastic about books than I have in a long time.  And it’s not like I don’t have experience with book clubs. I participate in more than one in my personal life and I passionately follow book discussions online using Goodreads.  I just love book chat.

I think that the difference with this group of people is that they all come to the WPL Book Club with such different perspectives.  Usually book clubs are made up of friends – I was invited to both of my book clubs by someone who knows me well – and you tend to have similar life experiences so your discussions can be pleasant and chatty but very much same old, same old.  In the WPL Book Club the participants are all attending because of the convenience of the location and not because they know each other in their personal lives, so the conversation was much more diverse and stimulating.

Each discussion question we covered brought multiple perspectives and it was invigorating.  We were discussing Ami McKay’s book The Witches of New York so there was ample opportunity to discuss spiritualism, midwifery, medicine, the depth of the research that the author had done into the time period, the role of the independent women at the centre of the story and witchcraft, of course.  What a great book!  We ended up discussing the role of women in the workplace in the last half century, touching on the Waterloo area in particular. We found our way to speaking about nursing and midwifery and even chatted about experiences with the spirit world.  The hour went by so quickly I was surprised when it was time for us to close up our books.

Some participants have been coming to the WPL Book Club for years, a few for decades, and others were new arrivals to the group but everyone had a chance to share their thoughts about The Witches of New York.  It was very welcoming.  And while not every reader would say that it was their favourite among the author’s books – many preferred The Birth House, her 2006 novel – it did provide so much for us to discuss and a chance for us to talk about novels to read next like Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River (because of the nurse character, Rita Sunday) or The Witch of Blackbird Pond which was a Newbery Medal winner in 1959.  It was the best kind of book talk, really, because we came away with other ideas of what we might read next.  I think a few members wrote down some movie titles as well. It was a jam-packed hour.

If it sounds like a wonderful time, it was!  And, WPL’s Book Clubs are open to everyone, even if you haven’t been able to attend a session this year, you can jump right in.  They run on Monday evenings and Thursday afternoons at the Main Library and I can tell you from first-hand experience that you will have the best time.  I had so much fun that I almost forgot that I was at work.  Hope to see you here in the library soon!

— Penny M.

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell

I like to read a variety of genres and, like many readers, I have a list of my favourite authors whom I trust to give me an awesome read in their usual genre. But I also love it when an author breaks out of his or her genre to try something different.

Case in point – Robert Dugoni. He is one of my go-to authors for suspense (if you haven’t read his Tracy Crosswhite series you really must — start with My Sister’s Grave). With The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, he branches out to write a stand-alone, heart-felt coming-of-age story about a boy named Sam Hill who faces adversity throughout his life because he was born with a genetic abnormality – ocular albinism which gives him red eyes.

Sam Hill (nicknamed “Sam Hell”) is a main character readers will easily get behind. The story is told using short chapters alternating between Sam’s childhood and adulthood, where readers witness Sam’s struggles with discrimination, a ruthless bully and being a social outcast. Through it all he has the unwavering support of his two best friends and his parents but it’s his relationship with this mother, his staunchest champion, that brought a few tears to this reader’s eyes (which is no easy feat, I’m telling you).

This is an engaging and touching story that hits all the emotional buttons and will be most appreciated by those who have ever felt like an underdog. Sam’s story is about faith, loyalty, persistence and unconditional love. You’re simply going to love Sam Hill.

Note: I highly recommend you read the author’s acknowledgements at the end of the book. I loved learning about his personal connection to the story and how the idea of Sam Hill came to him.

— Laurie P.

Featured Titles – Winter 2019

Our WPL Collections Department staff have waded through reviews, catalogues and blogs, searching out the next must-read titles to share with you. You can browse through their latest selections on the Featured Titles list for Winter 2019.

Fiction Picks

Secret identities. Deception. The theft of people’s scandalous stories for personal gain. Murder. Fashion design. Royals. The topics are wide-ranging and there are definitely novels for every taste on the winter 2019 list.

Non-Fiction Picks

From essays and speeches to Googling that weird rash, seasonal eating to autonomous cars, downed ships and, a popular topic year round, the weather. It was difficult to select just seven titles to feature but we did it!

Happy reading!

featured-titles-winter-2019