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

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.

100 Books That Changed the World

Wow, this is such a fascinating book! Flip through this book, pick a page–any page–and you are guaranteed to learn something.

That’s what I did when I borrowed 100 Books That Changed the World by Scott Christianson & Colin Salterand. And here’s what I found. A title, previously unknown to me, so intrigued me that I immediately went and grabbed it off the library shelves. The book is Maus by Art Spiegelman. It’s the author’s Pulitzer-Prize winning account of his father’s experiences during the Holocaust, told in graphic novel form. Now, I am not a graphic novel person but Maus is amazing.

100 Books that Changed the World is arranged chronologically, from I Ching (2,800 BC) to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything (2014). Each listing comes with information about the book and why the authors considered it to be significant. The book is split about 50/50 between fiction and non-fiction.

Some of the 100 books are religious or moral teachings, such as the Bible, the Torah, the Koran and the writings of Confucious. There are books about scientific discovery (for example, books by Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin and Rachel Carson) and works related to culture/economics/politics (for example, books by Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Dr. Benjamin Spock).

Turning to fiction, some of the choices are hundreds or thousands of years old and still widely read today. How amazing is that! Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey (got to read those one day) and Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales rub elbows with more recent picks that include Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and George Orwell’s 1984. Even a couple works of children’s literature get the nod. Can you guess what they might be?

Most of the choices in this book I would certainly agree with. Though to be completely honest a few I had never even heard of. And here are two titles not part of this book that I would have included: The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

— Penny D.

The Girl They Left Behind

I’m an avid reader who reads many different genres but historical fiction is the one genre that I regularly gravitate towards. When you read a lot of one genre, you sometimes feel like you’ve read it all. The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos brings something new to this very popular genre with an engaging, informative and heart-felt story based on her mother’s early life during WWII and later during the Soviet occupation of Romania.

During the horrors of the 1941 Pogrom in Bucharest, Veletzos’ grandparents made the difficult choice to leave their three-year-old daughter, Natalia, on the steps of a building hoping to give her a chance to survive. Sent to an orphanage, she was quickly adopted by a wealthy couple who were devoted to her and gave her life of privilege.

Veletzos follows her mother’s early life and also provides vivid descriptions of Bucharest during WWII and afterwards when the Soviets took control, a time when life for many Romanians continued to be fraught with uncertainty and danger – especially those who didn’t support the Communist regime. She includes the lesser known history of Romania during these times and blends her personal family history into a riveting, fictional read. This is a captivating, sometimes heart-wrenching story about family bonds, resilience and hope.

I highly recommend The Girl They Left Behind to fans of historical fiction who enjoy getting a different perspective in the popular WWII historical fiction genre and especially for those of us who think they’ve ‘read it all’. Veletzos may just surprise you.

— Laurie P.

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 Hate U Give

When I discovered The Hate U Give during its release last year, I thought to myself, “This book is going to resonate with readers and become very popular.” After 85 weeks on the NYT Bestseller List, millions of copies sold, and a movie adaptation released in theatres this week, it has become more than popular; it’s mainstream. Why? Because there are so many people around the world (and not just teens) who, like the book’s narrator, are experiencing varying forms of a political awakening.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a story of many stories. It’s a story about 16-year old Starr Carter struggling to exist between two worlds: her predominantly black neighbourhood of Garden Heights and the predominantly white suburban prep school she attends. It’s a story of her childhood best friend Khalil being brutally shot by a police officer unarmed. It’s a story of grief. It’s a story about systemic injustice. It’s a story about the realities of racism in America that persists today. It’s a story about finding your voice. And it’s a story about a community that struggles to come together against these injustices while trying to restrain their fury towards each other.

I enjoyed this book a lot. Its subject is timely, complex, and rendering. I loved how much the book focused on Starr and her family. Unlike many YA books where parents are either dead or absentee, Starr’s parents and extended family were not only consistently present but fleshed out. We not only know Momma and Daddy, but Starr’s older half-brother Seven, Uncle Carlos, Nana, and her younger brother Sekani. All of these relationships are dynamic and create a fully imagined community. Sure, Starr has a boyfriend and friends from school, but they stand on the periphery in the story. In the darkest and most tragic of circumstances, Starr’s loving family not only supported her, but empowered her too.

While this book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement it unapologetically tackles the question of what racism looks like in America today. Many may suggest that racism is a term of the past but this book argues otherwise. Racism may not have public lynchings or signs that segregate white Americans from African Americans like it was under the laws of Jim Crow, but the segregation that separates Starr’s communities allows the persistence of endemic oppression of African Americans to continue. Racism can look like Starr’s dad being ordered to lay down with his hands behind his back for having a loud conversation with his next-door neighbour Mr. Lewis. Or it can be more invisible such as Hailey unfollowing Starr’s Tumblr account because she didn’t want to see “gross images” of Emmett Till on her dashboard. While this book doesn’t attempt to solve the problem of racism (that’s way too big a task) it does paint a complex picture of what racism looks like in America in 2017. Its picture has heavy strokes of blatant racism, tones of invisible racism, white privilege, systemic oppression, and even reverse-racism in the background.

While this book has a tragic beginning, it ends on an impassioned and empowering note. As Starr is politically awakened, she is empowered to use her voice to stand up for her community. In these perilous times we live in, Starr sets a great example of becoming an advocate even when the system always fails you. And that’s why in the Parthenon of young adult literature, Starr will continue to shine on and off the page.

— Eleni Z.

The Romanov Empress

If you like historical fiction, The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner is a great read! Narrated by Maria Feodorovna, the mother of the last Tsar of Russia, it follows her life from her idyllic childhood as a Danish Princess through to her role as Dowager Empress of Russia during the Bolshevik revolution.

Minnie, as she is known by friends and family, is betrothed to Nicholas Romanov, the heir to the throne of Tsar Alexander Romanov II. Falling terminally ill unexpectedly, Nicky begs Minnie, upon his death, to marry his brother Alexander III. At the age of 19, Minnie feels that she has no option but to accede to her late fiancee’s request and marries the new heir apparent, a bullish and brooding man, quite unlike his gentle and refined brother. With time though, Minnie, now officially Maria Feodorovna, develops a deep love and respect for this besotted man and bears him six children.

Covering the time period from 1862 to 1918, the story illustrates the dynastic entitlement that accompanies those born of royal blood. We are witness to the opulence and extravagance of the wildly wealthy while at the same time observing the tremendous pressure borne by those fettered by the traditions and behavioural mandates of the Royal family.

As we watch the lives of the Romanovs unfold over the years, we are also witness to the fomenting of rebellion within Russia. While the Royals live lives of extraordinary excess, extreme poverty for many Russians affords them a life of hopelessness and hunger. Dissent runs rampant in the country with many assassination threats and attempts on the Tsar’s life. After one group, the Nihilists, are eventually hung or banished, their cause is picked up by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks. We all know the story does not end well for Maria’s son, Tsar Nicholas and his family. Facing utter contempt from his citizenry, in part due to the reliance the Royals have put on a ‘sorcerer’, Grigori Rasputin, the Romanovs are without support from the masses and the country rings out with calls of death to the Tsar.

0425286169This novel was well-researched and gives the reader plenty of opportunity to observe the excesses and trials of the Russian monarchy. It also gives additional information on the fate of the surviving Romanovs after their escape from Russia. There are two family trees in the front of the book, one for the Royal Family of Denmark and one for the Imperial Romanovs of Russia.

I would strongly suggest that readers avail themselves of these familial road maps as the interweaving of the families makes it hard to keep straight who the characters are and from which bloodline they descend.

— Nancy C.

Start your summer with 90 Days of Different

Sophie is mature. Sophie is responsible. Sophie is dreadfully dull.  So dull in fact that her boyfriend breaks up with her just before high school graduation.  What should be the happiest time of her life is turned upside down.  But Sophie’s best friend Ella has a plan. Every day for the remainder of the summer Sophie will try a brand new experience. Some experiences will be tame and others will be wild, but each one will thrust her out of her comfort zone. Every adventure is documented with pictures or videos and posted online.

90 Days of Different is written by Eric Walters, one of Canada’s most popular writers for young readers. He began his career as a teacher, writing stories that would appeal to his students. Years later, he is still finding ways to connect with his young audience. You can follow all of Sophie’s experiences on social media. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts are set up with pictures of her adventures.

Some of Sophie’s tamer experiences have her doing things like modeling on a runway or riding a mechanical bull.  One of wildest adventures starts with her sneaking out late at night to paint street art and ends with her in the back of a police car. Other experiences are just plain entertaining, like getting a job and then trying to get fired before the end of her shift.

As the summer goes on, Sophie becomes more confident and finds herself as somewhat of a social media star. People start following her adventures from all over the world, some even suggesting what she should do for her next experience.

The story pushes the idea of growth and self discovery but it also focuses on friendship. Instead of being about girls who chase the idea of boys and romance, it follows the story of two girls who believe in and support each other.

Sophie and Ella’s friendship began in early childhood. Since then,they’ve shared together all of life’s joys and hardships. Ella was there when Sophie lost her mom. Sophie was there for Ella when her parents divorced.  Like any real friendship, it has its ups and downs, positives and shortcomings.

90 Days of Different is a light, easy read with a positive message. It’s a great choice to curl up with on the deck or porch and start the summer.

-Lesley L.

The Rule of Stephens

I heard a radio interview recently with a fascinating Canadian author named Timothy Taylor and wondered why I hadn’t read his books before. Then, when I checked on his previous books in the WPL catalogue, I saw that he had been shortlisted for the Giller Prize in 2002 and I sussed out the reason for this gap in my knowledge. Kids.

My kids were the problem. Timothy Taylor wrote his first two books when our children were very small and I was too busy taking them to the library or reading them the book Maisy Goes to the Library over and over. There is a whole pocket of things every parent misses when their children are young and then, when they reach their teen years, that time slowly comes back in bits and bobs. Often my time comes to me when I am waiting for them outside of practices and rehearsals so recently I enjoyed reading The Rule of Stephens.

Oh, how I enjoyed reading this book. And yet, I feel horrible writing that I enjoyed reading this book because it is partially about a terrifying airplane crash with only a handful of the passengers surviving. The novel begins with the author describing the life of one of the survivors, named Catherine. She is a doctor who has left her practice behind to begin a groovy medical start-up (her office is in a warehouse filled with computer geniuses and analysts who bring their dogs to work, leave their bikes next to their desks, experiment with any type of food and have a teepee in the middle of their workspace) and carries a print out of the airplane seats with a notation of the people who survived the crash.

The author’s incredible attention to detail – outstanding and unusual details – is part of what makes this novel one that will stay in my memory for a long time and become one that I suggest to friends and customers who like an unusual story but also one that has wonderful moments of humanity.

Catherine is struggling with the kind of emotion that you would expect from someone who survives a plane crash over the ocean and she relives those horrifying moments when the plane starts to split apart, sharing them with her co-workers and others who are close to her. As she explores huge questions about how she lives her life she is managing her start up, possibly beginning a romantic relationship for the first time since the crash, negotiating with the horrible man who loaned her the capital for her company, and getting to know one of the other survivors from the flight. Really, this doesn’t sound like a book that would take on a page-turning pace but it does because of the unexpected turn that Timothy Taylor takes in the second half of the book. It almost makes you second-guess reality and that’s where the title comes into play.

Catherine has a wonderful sister and, when they were younger, they would reference the rule of the two ‘Stephens’ – one is Stephen King and the other is Stephen Hawking. Being a physician, she much prefers the scientific world of Hawking but there are moments in the book where it seems like the events Catherine is experiencing might be more at home in a plot written by the man from Bangor, Maine. I was just thrilled to see the book unfold and can’t imagine how Timothy Taylor didn’t constantly pat himself on the back and say “good job” after he finished a chapter. It was such an incredibly interesting read – different from anything I had read before.

So, as I do with many of the books I love, I stayed up far too late reading this one. When I was finished I looked at the clock, berated myself for being so foolish (in staying up late) and then turned back to the beginning so that I could ‘meet’ Catherine again for the first time. She was just as fascinating the second time. When common sense finally took hold I was able to console myself with two things – we have several of Timothy Taylor’s other books here at WPL for my reading enjoyment and he is a prolific writer in other forms so his website is a treasure trove of wonderful material to explore. Now I just have to wait for those pesky kids to move out so I have time to read everything.

— Penny M.

Revisiting a classic

I think that everyone has a book that they read when they were young that made them feel like the author was speaking directly to them, as if the author could see right into their soul, and that no other person would read the book in the exact same way. The book that meant that much to me is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and I know that I pestered my parents and older siblings with constant references to book until they probably thought it might be worth ‘losing’ my library card for a few weeks so I’d find something else to talk about. Written in 1962, it was the winner of the 1963 Newberry Medal, and has never stopped being a touchstone in children’s literature (and, I really think, literature for all). I re-read it almost every year and our shelves at home have more than one copy because our kids have received it as a gift several times. It’s probably good that we have so many copies as each person will want one when they move out.

It’s not just that reading the book takes me back to a cozy time from my reading past, although in a way it does, because the main character – Meg Murry – has a loving family, a wonderful dog, supportive friends. In fact, the book is edgy and has more darkness than you would expect of a novel with a young main character. Part of the appeal of this book is that Meg is at an awkward time in her life, doubting her appearance and her place in the world, but she has to travel across the galaxy to rescue her father with the help of her incredible younger brother Charles Wallace and a new friend, Calvin.  The three kids at the centre of the story are united because they all see themselves as different from their peers and they know themselves well enough to place value on their ability to think independently. Reading this when I was little felt wonderful and I still value their loyalty to one another when I read it now. It’s a story of friendship and trust but the author had a glorious imagination like no one else I was reading at that time – unless I was taking books from my brothers’ bookshelves.

This novel shows all three children facing challenges, doubting themselves, seeing horrible danger approaching and at some moments they despair that they might not succeed in rescuing Meg’s father. Madeleine L’Engle chose not to ‘write down’ or ‘sugarcoat’ a situation for her readers and the first time I read this one I was so worried for the fate of Meg and Charles Wallace. It’s an adventure that keeps you on the edge of your seat, casting Meg as the hero – a girl! – long before that was popular. She is the 1960s version of Katniss Everdeen but uses her love for her father as the weapon against the villains. As the child of scientists with a gift for math and a stubborn streak, Meg was an anomaly in the books I was reading and she continues to be one of my all-time favourite book characters. Her story, her love of her family, and the friendship she forms with Calvin has not aged a bit, making it possible to hand this book out to a young person at the library today and be confident that they will adore it.

Here is some great news for all who love the words of Madeleine L’Engle – her granddaughters have written a biography (for middle-grade audience but I don’t think that matters at all to fans of a woman who wrote for children with such respect) using their family stories, her own manuscripts and journals, and photographs as the basis for the book.  The book has been given the wordy title of Becoming Madeleine: a biography of the author of A Wrinkle in Time by her granddaughters.  I’ve read that her granddaughters had been thinking of doing something to celebrate the author’s 100th birthday (she was born in New York City in November 29 of 1918) and, inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics from Hamilton where the cast sings “who lives, who dies, who tells your story”, they knew what they wanted to do.  They chose to focus only on the years of her life up to when this novel was published and tried to examine only documents which were relevant to the biography in an effort to be respectful of their grandmother’s privacy. L’Engle had agreed for all of her papers to be housed at the archive of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois so I’m sure that they must have spent many happy hours there collaborating on this incredible project. It’s a book that will be popular with fans of all ages.

Another significant event happens this year to tie in with her important birthday – the much anticipated film based on A Wrinkle in Time. It’s been adapted before, once for TV, and it wasn’t exactly… perfect. We have that 2003 film here at the library if you would like to check it out. We also have a glorious graphic novel version that is so worth your time. I knew that this new adaptation was in the works and was thrilled to see that Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay would be the powerhouse behind it. It’s a tricky film to produce as Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin travel across galaxies and meet wonderful, magical, and spectacular beings so the special effects staff must have been working overtime every weekend. In addition to this challenge DuVernay is producing a film based on something that has lived on in memories for decades so there is pressure there to keep fans happy. In the novel the kids have three guides in their cross-Galaxy journey who are known as “the Mrs.” – sometimes referred to as guardian angels – and DuVernay cast Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling. In a recent TIME magazine article she said that she chose them because she wanted “leaders – icons” to play these incredible personalities. Good or bad decision? What do you think? Well, they are such iconic women that I have seen three magazine cover stories featuring them, a Dec 25, 2017 TIME magazine cover, the February 2018 issue of Essence and March 2018 issue of Oprah Magazine. We have copies of these magazines on the library shelves and both Oprah Magazine and TIME are available for you to stream or download through the Digital Library so you can read all about the cast, the movie and how they feel about Madeleine L’Engle’s iconic work.  

I’m not sure how I will feel about any of the decisions the director and producers have made about the most recent film adaptation but I do know that the first time I saw the trailer (@WrinkleInTime takes you to the trailer and all kinds of great news about the movie) in a theatre with my kids I really did tear up. It’s beautiful stuff. And, more than that, it’s simply thrilling that so much attention is being paid to a wonderful story about children who are saving the world, going out to fight against a horrible darkness, to protect their father from something so cruel when they know that they might lose their own life in the fight. I am feeling a little bit worried about what Disney is doing with my very favourite story but I’m hopeful. Please don’t ask me how I feel about the sales of those A Wrinkle in Time Barbies

-Penny M.