Ten Picture Books to read this Summer

CURATED COFFEE

You don’t have to be a kid to love picture books, and if you’re like me and can’t resist a beautifully told story with fantastic illustrations then these books might just be up your alley:

  1. The Fog, Kyo Maclear – I absolutely love all of Kyo Maclear’s picture books. They are  all equally clever and beautiful. The Fog, an environmental fable about a bird who is a human-watcher looks like it will be just as gorgeous.
  2. Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel – When it is discovered that there are no more tacos left in the world, the dragons will have to do something about it to make sure that their beloved tacos are no longer extinct. Having read the first one in this series to my son about eight million times, there’s no way I’ll miss picking up this delightful sequel.
  3. Goldfish Ghost, by Lemony Snicket – I love everything by Lemony Snicket and this new picture book looks like it will be just as fantastic. Following the story of a childhood pet gone “belly up,” Snicket takes a clever look at the afterlife.
  4. Life on Mars, by Jon Agee – Playing with visual jokes, a martian follows a little astronaut through the pages of this witty book as he attempts to share some chocolate cupcakes.
  5. Triangle, by Mac Barnett – Triangle plays a trick on his friend square…what will happen? (I don’t know, but if you loved I Want My Hat Back this looks like it will be just as hilarious.
  6. Sparkle Boy, by Lesléa Newman – A sweet book about acceptance and being yourself, Sparkle Boy is about Casey, who loves to play with trucks and puzzles but also loves all things glittery and sparkly.
  7. Ox, Ox: A Love Story, by Adam Rex & illustrated by Andrew Arnold – Told in an epistolary style, Ox Ox is a love story between an ox and a gazelle. Need I say more?
  8. Not Quite Narwhal, by Jessie Sima – The story of a young unicorn who grew up with a family of narwhals, Not Quite Narwhal is a beautifully told story about not-quite fitting in.
  9. Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, by Kwame Alexander – With bright, beautiful pictures to accompany original poems that pay homage to famous poets, this books is definitely going to be a favourite at bedtime for a long time.
  10. Stack the Cats, by Susie Ghahremani – “One cat sleeps. Two cats play. Three cats stack!” This purrrrfect counting book will be sure to motivate little readers who love cats to learn to count.

Vicious, by V.E. Schwab

I listened to Vicious as an audio book and found myself wanting to drive around endlessly just to see how the story ended. The first in the “Villains” series, we are introduced to Victor and and Eli, who were once college roommates working on a project on adrenaline and near-death experiences but are not better enemies. Who will win out in the end?

Good Vs. Evil

Usually, I’m not a fan of the standard “good vs. evil” narrative, but I was intrigued by the structure of this story enough to give it a chance. I’m glad that I did. While the first half of the book situates the reader in the mind of Victor, who has recently escaped from a ten-year stint in prison for murder, the second half drops us into Eli’s consciousness. Both characters, we learn, are as the title suggests: vicious. Even though I would argue that Victor is meant to be more of a heroic figure, Eli (who is on a quest to eradicate all humans who have ExtraOrdinary abilities) is still made to be a sympathetic character. Although some might argue that both characters inhabit a morally grey area, I think it makes them all the more enticing.

After all, as the narrator suggests…

“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.”

Narrative Shifts

The narrative flashes back and forth between the past where Victor and Eli make disturbing discoveries and the present, ten years later when they are enemies. Each chapter is a different time frame, ranging from ten years ago to two hours ago. As an audiobook, I have to say that this sometimes got a bit confusing if I didn’t first hear the time shift. Narratively though, it kept me listening because I was so curious to piece together the puzzle of how Victor and Eli had become enemies.

A New Take on Superheroes

Reminiscent of the 1990 horror film Flatliners, the excitement begins when Victor and Eli begin to experiment with near-death experiences by trying to kill each other as a way of unearthing their own dormant ExtraOrdinary abilities. I’ve read some reviews that would call this plot “derivative,” but I would have to disagree. What V.E. Schwab does with this notion (even though it is not new) is clever, because she uses the idea of near-death experiences as a way to explain the existence of super heroes.  I would also argue that there have been plenty of stories that were derived in some way from other similar narratives (read more about that here) and what makes a story truly worthwhile is the gorgeous prose (check), fascinating characters (check) and fast-moving plot (check).

If you’re looking for a story where the good guys look like good guys and the bad guys wear black cloaks and cackle, go read something else. If you love complex, engrossing books with characters who will make you think, read Vicious. I guarantee it’s a book you’ll want to devour.

 

What are your favourite super hero stories? Why, exactly, are we drawn to tales of super hero strength?

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: The Best Books I’ve Read in 2017 (So Far)

Top Ten Tuesd

As part of The Broke and the Bookish’s “Top Ten Tuesday,” I decided to share my favourite books that I’ve read so far in 2017…

  1. My (Not So) Perfect Life, by Sophie Kinsella – I’ve read all of Sophie Kinsella’s books, and each one is a guaranteed riot. Her latest one was especially funny and poignant as it addresses the discrepancy between how peoples’ lives appear online and how they might look in real life.
  2. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood – Okay, I know. I should have read this one ages ago, because it is brilliant. (And given the current freaky political situation in the States, it seems to be even more real…)
  3. My Lady Jane, by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand & Jodi Meadows – My inner history nerd (who died briefly whilst learning about the world wars) was revived when I read this book. It’s equal parts historical romance and humorous and an all around good time.
  4. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss – I listened to this one on audio book and found myself engrossed in this meticulously created world.
  5. The Royal We, by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan – Who doesn’t want to read a story about meeting and falling in love with a hot prince? No, really. I mean, who doesn’t?
  6. Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple – An offbeat, heartfelt story about a woman who is just trying to “get it right.”
  7. History is All You Left Me, by Adam Silvera – This one broke my heart, but in a good way. More on this later.
  8. The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena – It’s every parents’ worst nightmare, but every mystery lovers’ dream. This book kept me up at night.
  9. The Wangs vs. The World, by Jade Chang – Smart and funny, I loved this book for the characters, who were deeply flawed but extremely lovable.
  10. Foxlowe, by Eleanor Wasserberg – Cult stories fascinate me and this one was so creepy right up until the end that even now I still think about it and shudder (in a good way!)

History is All You Left Me, by Adam Silvera

A Book Review

 

Make no mistake. This book will break your heart, but also, it’s completely worth it. Narrated by Griffin, who is grieving his ex-boyfriend Theo, History is All You Left Me is a smart and thoroughly satisfying examination of love and grief. As Griffin tries to navigate his feelings about Theo’s death, the reader is taken on a journey between Griffin’s past with Theo and the present without him. Is it a “feel-good” sort of book? Not really. But it will make you feel *all* the feelings.

No Villains Here

What I loved the most about this book, apart from the jealousy-inducing prose was the fact that there weren’t any “villains” in this story. Although Griffin might see Jackson (Theo’s boyfriend) as a nemesis of sorts, as readers we get to know him in such a way that he is likeable. Further complicating the narrative is the fact that Griffin begins to learn that in some ways he and Jackson are similar.

A Unique Narrative Angle

The book begins with Griffin declaring, “You’re alive in alternate universes, Theo, but I live in the real world, where this morning you’re having an open-casket funeral,” making it clear from the get-go that this story is more confessional than anything else. What I like about this narrative frame is the semi-epistolary feel that Griffin’s asides to Theo bring to the story.

On one level, we have a story that follows Griffin as he grudgingly befriends Jackson while we are also exposed to the deeper (one-sided) dialogue between Griffin and Theo. This is a clever way to look at grief, because it feels like Silvera is trying to capture that feeling of losing someone, but not wanting to let go of them fully by keeping Theo’s presence within the narrative.

Heartbroken, in a Good Way

Is there a good way to feel heartbroken? I’m not sure, but if there is, History is All You Left Me has most definitely accomplished that. There are plenty of light moments that break the tension, of course, but also even though the ending is still somewhat sad it feels honest.

Without writing any spoilers, the reveals that come at the end of Griffin’s journey through his own grief and struggles with mental illness felt intense and heartbreaking, but also deeply real. I spent most of the book wishing that Theo would somehow come back to life and even though Griffin does find some closure, I was still left feeling heartbroken for him.

Read This Book (And Weep)

Prior to discovering History is All You Left Me, I didn’t think I would ever want to read a book about grief. But now, I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone. Silvera’s language is beautiful; his message is unforgettable.

What are your favourite books about grief?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re More Victorian than we Think

Dr._Jayne's_Expectorant_(3093617372)

As someone who grew up watching The X-Files and visiting every ghostly landmark I could find, I am a total sucker for a good ghost story.  If the Victorians hadn’t been so uptight about other things, I might even pine for that long lost era, because those guys really knew how to spin a good spectral yarn.

If you’ve read The Turn of the Screw, then you’ll know what I mean.  I’ve been thinking lately that perhaps, despite our modern society, we are still in some ways just a little bit Victorian in our fascination with the supernatural. Which leads me to ask this question: are we more Victorian in our literary proclivities than we realize?

Why Ghost Stories?

So what is it about ghostly tales that draws us in? One author suggests that at least for the Victorians, gas lamps and carbon monoxide hallucinations might have been to blame for the increased interest in ghost stories, but that doesn’t account for those of us living in the present, does it? Other theories suggest that a shift in economic times increases the interest in ghost stories and Neil Gaiman has even written a few words on the subject here, but I have another theory.

The Modern Ghost

What if the popularity of ghost stories were connected in some way to the growth of technology?

If you thought that spirit photography was an old, weird tradition, how do you account for the many many pictures purporting ghostly encounters online? Or the youtube videos declaring true sightings. And this type of “true footage” story lives on in the film industry too, with titles such as Paranormal Activity, a story that chronicles the demonic stalking of a young woman through security camera footage. This certainly might account for the reason people still want to hear ghost stories, but what about the Victorians?

Victorian, At Heart

If you think about it, in some ways, ghost stories were connected to “modern” technology for the Victorians too. With the development of the electric telegraph and the radio, people were suddenly able to be in better contact with one another and to hear a real-live disembodied voice speaking across air waves, but they were still in some ways disconnected from one another.

Steamships could deliver them farther than they might have thought possible and the railroads were opening up new routes of travel too. Just like us, the Victorians were experiencing a change in the way that they found human interaction. Similarly, in a world where we are increasingly connected, yet disconnected, is it really such a stretch that we would yearn for an everlasting connection to our world even after death?

 

Anxiety, Loneliness & the Spook

If you look at a ghost story like The Open Door by Margaret Oliphant (1885), which is about a boy who hears a frightening noise in his house and begins to go mad and compare it to something like Asylum by Madeleine Roux (2013) which in many ways deals with similar themes of anxiety and loneliness, it feels like the stories we tell time and again are scratching at the door of something much larger. Perhaps it is some unchecked fear of the collective unconscious that speaks to an increasingly anxious population of readers.

Whatever the case, I have a feeling that ghost stories aren’t about to disappear any time soon.

What’s your favourite ghost story?

 

 

Miss You, by Kate Eberlen

IMG_4907 (1)

 

I’m not going to lie. I chose this book because the cover was so pretty. But what I discovered was a heartfelt and deeply engrossing story of two people making a slow journey towards one another. Sure, Miss You  is a love story, but Eberlen’s intricately woven tale is also about so much more.

Stunning Settings

Perhaps my favourite element of this book were the descriptions of Italy and London, which were so detailed that I felt like I was right there along with Tess as she slurped fresh pasta with her BFF Doll. Sometimes, I think that travel scenes in novels can come across as inauthentic, but in this case, it felt like Eberlen got the details down so perfectly that the narrative felt like a true escape.

A Thought-Provoking Narrative

Apart from Miss You exploring the ideas of “true love” and the notion that there is someone out there for everyone, there is also a narrative thread that explores the idea of illness. Particularly, we learn quite early in the story that Tess’s mother has breast cancer. This becomes a deep struggle for Tess as she grows older and fears for her own health too. Paired with the will-they-won’t-they romance, this idea of fearing for one’s life in relation to illness resonated with me as a reader. It begs the question: even if we are going to die tomorrow, isn’t it still worth it to meet the potential love of our life?

That Ending!

Being that the majority of the book is a series of moments where Tess and Gus might have come across one another but didn’t, I found the build up to their final meeting to be well-drawn out. I love that there are several times when they might have met, but circumstances prevent this from happening. My one quibble was with the final chapter. While their eventual meeting was just as glorious as I’d hoped, there are a few reveals in the final pages that left me reeling. Perhaps it was because I didn’t want the book to end, but those final words left me…wanting.

Despite wanting just a little bit more, I would absolutely recommend this book. Not only is it beautifully written, but it explores some thought-provoking themes in a clever way. Now that I’ve given this book to a friend, I’m kind of already missing it.

 

If you’ve read Miss You what did you think of it? Would you recommend it to a friend?

Five Non-Fiction Books By Awesome Women

 

womens_march_on_versailles01

“Women’s March on Versailles.”

 

I believe in good vibes.   While I was compiling this list, it occurred to me that I’ve been reading all kick-ass female writers as of late. A coincidence? I think not. In light of the women’s marches happening around the world yesterday, it feels like there are a whole lot of charged emotions floating around out there. What better way is there to keep the momentum going than by reading some inspiring female writers?

Here are five of my favourite Non-Fiction reads right now:

  1. Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown – This book is the pick-me-up that you can fit into your purse (or man-bag). As a study of vulnerability, Dr. Brene Brown examines cultural myths about courage and weakness as well as providing some honest, real-human advice on how to not freak out. I was introduced to this book by a good friend of mine and was so inspired by what he had to say that I knew I had to read it. Here’s why you should read it: Brown’s heartfelt ideas on success and vulnerability will put you in an excellent mindset to go forth and be awesome.
  2. Real Artists Have Day Jobs, by Sara Benincasa – Even if you don’t make art, this book is chock full of hilarious (and short) essays that will make you laugh and think at the same time! (Did you know you could do that?) Benincasa covers such subjects as reading, decluttering your house, Feelings (with a capital “F”) and overconfidence.
  3. The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher – Do yourself a favour and listen to this one on audiobook if you can. I’ll admit that hearing Carrie Fisher’s voice in my living room was a bit freaky, but her anecdotes about what it was like filming the first Star Wars movie are equal parts entertaining and thoughtful. Read it for the diary excerpts alone!
  4. Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, Elizabeth Greenwood – I came across this fascinating read while doing research for a story I was writing and couldn’t put it down. I was drawn in by Greenwood’s premise: that she faked her own death in order to uncover the secrets of the death fraud world. What I loved, though, was Greenwood’s easy narrative tone and the way that she not only talked about her own death fraud experience, but also highlighted many other real-life cases.
  5. Yes, Please, by Amy Poehler – Full of quirky stories and personal advice, I had to include Poehler’s book on my list, mainly because I think she is amazing but also because her book made me laugh when I was sleep-deprived and that means a lot. Will it blow your mind? Maybe. Will it make you laugh and also offer up funny stories from Amy Poehler’s life? You bet. (After all, sometimes the best way to reset your mind for a big, new year full of goals is to let loose and laugh a little–or a lot).

 

What books make you feel inspired?